What happens when you meet expectations? Nothing

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We must all understand that only exceeding expectations is memorable and the top ingredient in customer service is always “helping” people. In fact, if you’re not exceeding expectations, someone else likely is.

So what leads me to write about this today? A ship’s crewmember and some airport employees.

I was recently aboard Royal Caribbean’s “Freedom of the Seas” for a seven-day cruise with my kids and 16-month-old granddaughter, Addie, from Chicago. The first couple of mornings at the huge and lavish breakfast buffets we got Addie her favorite — Fruit Loops. But, then, one morning there were no Fruit Loops to be found on any of the buffet counters. Addie wasn’t happy.

A crewmember named Ercan Salman from Turkey was wiping off an adjacent table, noticed Addie’s frown and asked why. I told him there were no more Fruit Loops. He said “Addie, I will find you Fruit Loops,” and headed off. When he returned, he apologized and reported he had checked every buffet and even the galley and could find no Fruit Loops. We were grateful he tried and it could have ended there. But it didn’t. He was about to exceed our expectations.

He said if we would be patient, he would go down to the ship’s storerooms (we were on Deck 11, the storerooms were down on Deck 1) and find Fruit Loops. He returned with an armful of Fruit Loops boxes. In going that extra mile to “help,” Ercan truly delighted us. And now here I am telling all of you about it because that’s what happens when you exceed expectations — people tell others, often lots of others.

The takeaway is clear: In every dealership, every frontline team member should fully understand the power that’s in not just meeting expectations, but exceeding them whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s why customers come back. (Yes, we’d definitely sail Royal Caribbean again.) In addition to giving a customer a great experience, you never know what other good things can come of it. Try this:

At Tampa International Airport recently, the adventures of a 6-year-old boy’s stuffed tiger named Hobbes went viral and reached people around the world because some airport employees exceeded expectations.

The plush tiger belonged to Owen Lake. Sadly, Hobbes accidentally got left behind when the family boarded their flight to Houston. But Hobbes wasn’t just another toy. He was Owen’s very special companion and he was handmade by Owen’s aunt.

The family contacted the airport, albeit with low expectation that Hobbes would be found. But airport employees did find Hobbes and that alone exceeded expectations. But great service can have even bigger endings than that — as this one did.

While at the Tampa airport waiting for Owen’s return, the employees decided to show Hobbes around their airport. He had his picture taken hanging out with airport firefighters, viewing the control tower, enjoying some gelato and lounging around the Marriot hotel pool. The pictures were then put into a book that was presented to Owen when the family returned to Tampa, reuniting Owen and Hobbes once again.

After reporter Justine Griffin’s story about Hobbes at the Tampa airport was published in the Tampa Bay Times, it went viral and has been published by media outlets around the world. Perhaps you caught the story on Good Morning America, the Today Show, CNN, National Public Radio or others outlets. In addition, more than 100,000 people liked it on Tampa International Airport’s Facebook page; there’s been more than 64,000 page views to the story on Tampa International Airport’s website; it’s been tweeted 19,000-plus times; and more than a quarter-million people have read all about Hobbes on the Times’ website.

The takeaway: The employees at Tampa International Airport clearly exceeded the Lake family’s expectations. And in going the extra mile to help customers, these employees projected the good name, image and reputation of their airport to an enormous audience, including news sites in Canada, France, Switzerland, New Zealand and more.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. — Aristotle

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