Technology has changed a lot of things in our lives. One thing that has changed, and not for the better, is our perception of time.
When I worked in government in the 1980s, we had computers, but no fax machines (and no email, of course). I remember when we first got a telecopier. For those of you who don’t remember telecopiers, they were basically prehistoric fax machines. Like a fax machine, a telecopier would send a document over the phone line. Unlike a fax machine, one page of a document required about 30-60 minutes to transmit. Back then, we thought this was a miracle. Instead of an overnight wait to send a document across geography, we could do it in a few hours. Then, on the heels of the telecopier, along came the fax machine. An even bigger miracle. With a fax machine, transmitting a page required less than a minute.
So, why is it that I have found myself sitting in front of my computer, encouraging my email to go faster? I think it’s because as technology gets faster, we readjust our expectations of how fast everything else should move. This creates a syndrome I call E-Expectations.
E-Expectations are the expectations that since we can communicate instantaneously–because of technology and the Internet–we can also perform instantaneously.
E-Expectations are apparent when we fail to allow a realistic amount of time for completion of a request. We expect an instant response to an email simply because it is possible–never mind that a useful reply requires some thought on the part of the other person. We expect that because the person on the other end of the phone has access to a computer, the information we need is instantly available. And when our E-Expectations are not met, we react with emotions that range from mild irritation to outrage.
You may have experienced the unpleasant result of E-Expectations in your small business. The arrival of electronic information at our fingertips has shortened the patience span of customers. Today, it seems to take very little to send a customer into a tirade, and dealing with an irate customer is never pleasant.
However, you can soothe irritation or even prevent indignation by managing expectations with your customers.
- If customers call for service, explain the process and give them a timeline
- If your customers need information and you can’t provide it immediately, give them a time estimate for when they can expect your response
- If you are part way through a project, don’t wait for completion, give your client updates along the way
- When you do give time frames, remember: “Underpromise and overdeliver”
And remember, when you are the customer on the other end of the line, manage your own expectations by asking about timelines and processes, instead of assuming instant ability and then blaming the other person when they don’t meet your E-Expectations.