Managing Expectations

When I worked in wine retail, I was so hypersensitive to customer expectations that I would often over-explain my recommendations to make sure everything was clear up front. For example, whenever I helped a client with an old and rare selection, I made sure to check off every potential misunderstanding about mature wine on my list:

  • Do you have experience drinking older vintages?

  • Do you have experience opening older bottles?

  • Do you like the earthier, more robust flavor of older wine?

And so on.

Even if the customer ended up being a complete expert, wise to the landmines of older bottles, I wanted to make sure no one left the store unaware of what they were getting into. Because older wines are expensive, people tend to buy them when looking for an extravagant gift. What many consumers don’t know, however, is that old wine is an acquired taste that requires a certain amount of experience, so you really need to know your audience. The corks tend to be weaker, there’s often sediment that needs to be filtered, the wines can have a mustier, funkier character, etc. For someone used to popping and pouring a young California cabernet, an older Bordeaux or Burgundy couldn’t be more different. Hence, why it’s so important to manage the expectations.

Because of my customer service background, I’m keenly observant of poor customer service in other fields and when I encounter an experience that’s blatantly sloppy and unclear, it blows my mind. Take my recent transaction with my local veterinarian. One of my good friends is a vet tech and, when moving my cats to Los Angeles, she recommended I give them a light dose of Xanax to take the edge off the stress. I took her advice to my vet in the Bay Area and asked for a small Xanax prescription, giving my reasons over the phone. She said no problem and that I could pick up the pills that afternoon. Not wanting to get caught off guard by any allergies or side effects, I decided to do a test run before the big day, taking the whole morning to observe and comfort my babies after dosing them.

Within fifteen minutes of taking the Xanax, one of my cats was not right. She was stumbling everywhere, completely disoriented, and scared. It was literally the opposite of what I was hoping for. Rather than distressing my cats, the Xanax was making them act skittish, dizzy, and drunk. I immediately called my friend to ask her if this was normal, and she asked me to give her the name of the medication.

“Oh man, are you kidding me?” she said, incredulously. “That’s not Xanax. That’s a fucking tranquilizer!”

I won't go into all the details, but of course I was livid with my vet for giving me a completely different drug, with no details about the side effects, no information about the expectations, and no explanation as to why she chose to give me Acepromazine instead of Xanax. I was also livid with myself for not realizing that I had been the victim of terrible customer service before subjecting my cats to that nightmare. Needless to say, I’ll never go to that vet again. Just like I know that any customer expecting silky sweet cabernet who shelled out $100 on a 1990 Calon Segur on my recommendation, only to end up unexpectedly with a disintegrated cork and a glass full of sediment would likely never shop with me again.

Misunderstandings happen. Miscommunications happen. But a failure to manage expectations is inexcusable in any industry. It’s the most important part of building trust.

-David Driscoll