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World-Class Service 101:
Know the difference between meeting and exceeding expectations

By Dr. Bryan K. Williams, D.M.
July 13, 2010

On a recent trip to an upscale hotel, I had dinner with the restaurant manager. He explained to me that one of the restaurant’s main goals was for guests to rate the restaurant a “5”, as measured by their guest satisfaction survey. The survey asks guests a series of questions, and each question has a corresponding scale that follows: (1=very dissatisfied, 2=dissatisfied, 3=indifferent, 4=satisfied, 5=very satisfied). The manager told me about all the initiatives he recently implemented to get the 5 rating from guests.

There was a new coffee cup storage system he just implemented that will ensure that cups are always available for service. Then, there was the cycle-time initiative that tracks the length of elapsed time from the guest’s food order being taken to the minute the first course is brought to the table. I told him that those initiatives sound good, but none of them would help the restaurant get 5’s. He looked confused. I explained that when I order coffee or tea, I EXPECT the beverage to be served on time. When I place my dinner order, I EXPECT the food to be served in a reasonable amount of time (unless I am proactively told otherwise, as in, a well-done steak or a soufflé).

The “4” represents satisfaction, which basically means that the restaurant did what the guests expected it to do. The staff was friendly…food came on time…everything tasted good…no roaches scurrying around, etc. I went on to explain that to get a 5 from a guest, first you must understand what the 5 represents. He really started to listen then. I explained that to get a 5 you must not only meet, but exceed expectations. You can’t just put processes and standards in place to avoid messing up. The guest does not expect you to mess up. Instead, actually exceeding expectations and impressing the guest is what leads to a 5.

Here is a table that illustrates my experience at dinner with the restaurant manager. The “satisfied” column is what really occurred and the “very satisfied” column is what would have made the experience a 5:

Satisfied (meet expectations) Very Satisfied (exceed expectations)
Server approached the table and said “Welcome to XYZ restaurant!”

Use my name in the introduction and welcome me back, if appropriate (note: the host/hostess would have already gotten my name and inquired if I dined there before)

Server asked if I’m ready to order, then takes my order.

Inquire about my taste preferences and make menu recommendations using descriptive words and phrases to make my mouth drool. (note: a server in a Fredericksburg, TX restaurant described a beet salad appetizer to me, and I subsequently ordered it and loved it! That was the first time I actually finished eating beets)

Asked what drink I wanted, and took my drink order Same as above
Asked about dessert Same as above
Asked about tea/coffee, and I ordered tea Same as above, and offer to steep my bag for me.
Said goodbye, thanks for coming Offer to call the valet to have my car ready or offer to call a taxi.

On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon I visited my client’s corporate office for three consecutive days of meetings. Before day 1, the office’s administrative assistant emailed me directions to the office from my hotel, along with a link to Google Maps. On day 2 it was raining…a lot. So at the end of that day’s meetings, I went to the bathroom and when I returned to the meeting room to get my briefcase, there was an umbrella next to it. The administrative assistant anticipated my needs. In fact, I didn’t even think of using an umbrella until she left it for me. She provided me with something I didn’t even know I wanted! (See The Double-Platinum Rule for more information). On day 3, still more rain in Portland, so she brought in a tray of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate to the meeting room. If I was asked about the service experience, do you think that I would rate her service a 5? You better believe it.

Basically, to get a 5, you must intentionally do things to get a 5. You can’t just meet expectations and expect customers to rate you as though you exceeded their expectations. The two don’t go together. So, I recommended that the restaurant manager do the following:

  1. Work with his team to make a list of all the major service touchpoints during a typical dining experience (see table 1).
  2. Clearly articulate what is “meeting expectations” (4) vs. “exceeding expectations” (5).
  3. Each day, pick one touchpoint to focus on. By “focus on” I mean:
    1. Discuss during the pre-shift meetings
    2. Conduct role-plays
    3. Look for opportunities to recognize staff for exceeding expectations for that day’s touchpoint
    4. Encourage staff to recognize each other for exceeding expectation for that day’s touchpoint (I always tell my clients that there is nothing as potent as peer-to-peer recognition).
    5. Every week, challenge staff to come up with more innovative ways to exceed expectations. (Make it fun! Come up with a contest to see who has the most original ideas, etc). 

To sum it up, to get your team to exceed expectations, you must continuously focus on exceeding expectations. Nothing else will do. Before long, your team’s minimum expectations of themselves will be to consistently exceed the expectations of their customers.

Upcoming Events from B.Williams Enterprise
Washington DC Service Excellence Training on July 27, 2010. Join Bryan at the SunTrust Conference Center to learn about the 7 Principles to Fully Engage your Customers. 

Poconos Service Excellence Training on August 11, 2010. Join Bryan at the Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort for Work Like You Own It: Six Habits of Service Superstars.

Submit your Wow Stories! - We would be honored if you can share a “wow story” from your organization. Basically, examples of when your staff exceeded a customer's expectations and created a memorable experience for them.  Just email the story to us! Please note if you would like us to not share your company's name. A paragraph (or 2) should be suffice. Just enough to clearly explain what the wow story was about and how the employee's actions made a positive difference. The first 5 submissions will receive a signed copy of Bryan’s book! So don’t hesitate!

About the Author

Dr. Bryan K. Williams is the Chief Service Officer of B.Williams Enterprise, and the author of Engaging Service: 22 Ways to Become a Service Superstar. Bryan’s passion is world-class customer service, and has facilitated workshops and delivered keynotes all over the world for various companies.  He speaks on a variety of topics related to service excellence, employee engagement, and organizational improvement.  As a consultant, Bryan works closely with companies to design, develop, and implement sustainable service strategies. His company’s online store includes a growing collection of customer service products that are well-suited for your training library.


Order Bryan’s new book and other resources at .
Engaging Service: 22 Ways to Become a Service Superstar

Find more resources relating to service excellence at

Also on the website, you can subscribe to the official B.Williams Enterprise emailing list.  You will receive announcements, newsletters and other excellent resources.


B. Williams Enterprise, LLC 
Phone: 240-401-6958 

EngageMe - Your #1 Source for Customer Service Products


Also See: Service Superstars Part 2: Treat them like they own it! / Dr. Bryan K. Williams / June 2010

Make each touchpoint memorable: Cha-Ching! / Dr. Bryan K. Williams / April 2010

Service Superstars: Work like you own it! / Bryan Williams / February 2010

Complimentary resources from Bryan K. Williams and B.Williams Enterprise! Begin 2010 with a focus on world-class service. / January 2010

Service Ambassadors: The Key to Providing World-Class Service / Bryan K. Williams / November 2009

5-Star Employees - Part 3 / Bryan K. Williams / September 2009

5-Star Employees - Part 2 / Bryan K. Williams / August 2009

5-Star Employees - Part 1/ Bryan K. Williams / July 2009

Engaging Service: 22 Ways to Become a Service Superstar / Bryan K. Williams / July 2009

Complimentary tele-seminars with Bryan K. Williams in July! / July 2009

Building a Team of Living It Employees / Bryan K. Williams / June 2009

World-Class Service: What if every employee served like a concierge? / Byran K Williams / March 2009

5 Star Leadership: What Does It Take to Be a 5-star Leader? / Byran Williams / February 2009

5 Stars vs. 4 Stars: What’s the Difference? / Byran Williams / January 2009

Complimentary training with Bryan Williams / January 2009

The 7 Principles of EngageMeTM is now available! / Bryan K. Williams / November 2008

Hiring and Engaging a World-Class Team / Bryan K. Williams / October 2008

Great Ideas for National Customer Service Week 2008 / Bryan K. Williams / September 2008

Delivering World-Class Service Part 3: Company Service Standards / Bryan K. Williams / September 2008

Delivering World-Class Service Pt. 2: Personal Service Standards / Bryan K. Williams / September 2008

Delivering World-Class Service: Function vs. Purpose / Bryan K. Williams / August 2008

Guest Problem Resolution 101: Power of the Follow-Up / Bryan K. Williams / June 2008

7 Principles to Fully Engage Your Customers – Part 2 / Bryan K. Williams / May 2008

7 Principles to Fully Engage Your Customers / Bryan K. Williams / April 2008

I Am a Service Professional™ / Bryan K. Williams / March 2008

Engage Every Customer…One Touchpoint at a Time / Bryan K. Williams / January 2008

Engaging Service Part 2: It’s All About the Culture / Bryan K. Williams / December 2007

Engaging Service Part 1: Not Just for the Chic / Bryan K. Williams / November 2007

Service Excellence: A Destination or a Journey? / Bryan K. Williams / October 2007

National Customer Service Week is Coming Soon - October 1-5, 2007 / September 2007

National Customer Service Week is Coming Soon - October 1-5, 2007 / September 2007

Engage Me…the Voice of Your Customer / September 2007

Customer Engagement: Where do we begin? / Byran K Williams / August 2007

Engage Me…the Voice of Your Customer / / August 2007

B. Williams Enterprise, LLC Launches Engage Me…  the Voice of Your Customer / August 2007

To Engage…Listen to the Voice of Your Customer / Byran K Williams / August 2007

To Engage the Guest, You Must Engage Those Who Directly Serve the Guest / Byran K Williams / July 2007

Three Service Rules: The Golden Rule, Platinum Rule, and Double Platinum Rule/ Byran K Williams / June 2007

The Greatest Bellman I Ever Met… / Bryan K. Williams / April 2006

Sorry to Say…But Some People Should Not be Serving Other Human Beings / Bryan K Williams / October 2006

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