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The relationship between a company or an organization and its consumers, or franchise, is based on trust.  Trust that the company or organization will do what they say, deliver what they promise, provide the service that has been contracted, usually, in return for a fee.

Consumers have choices, and have the option to do business from among several companies with similar offerings.  There is a general understanding of what an airline company or an insurance company provides.  Both examples have been around for decades and millions of people have taken flights and/or have purchased all types of insurance.

When millions of people have used your services, or those of your competitors, expectations are created, and a widespread, almost universal understanding of what your business is or does, is established.

Standards and Expectations

Standards and expectations are related, but they are far from being the same thing.

Standards are norms or established parameters/measurements/criteria that help ensure uniformity, consistency and quality.  So they are quantitative in nature, specifications that can be measured, checked and verified.  Standards are widely accepted across the broad population, often across the world.

Standard, (noun) 3. something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example : criterion <quite slow by today’s standards>  4: something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality 5a : the fineness and legally fixed weight of the metal used in coins    b : the basis of value in a monetary system <the gold standard>

Expectations are more qualitative, less defined, fixed and measurable, somewhat more subjective and personal as each individual has a slightly different interpretation of what they might receive, might get or what might happen.

Expectations, often also common or shared, are more an individual perception, and are likely to vary slightly from person to person.

Expectations (noun) 1: the act or state of expecting : anticipation <in expectation of what would happen>  2 a : something expected <not up to expectations> <expectations for an economic recovery> b : basis for expecting : assurance <they have every expectation of success> c : prospects of inheritance —usually used in plural 3: the state of being expected  4 a : expectancy b : expected value.

Standards for a cup of coffee would be hot, coffee-flavoured liquid in a cup.  Expectations might vary from instant in a paper cup, to a latte in a china mug.

I have long had a challenge with standards and expectations.  It is only after a dear friend, having listened to rants about my many and frequent disappointments due to unrealistic expectations or expectations set too high, who advised me to change my thinking and orientation to having  “High standards, low expectations.”  This has become my personal mantra and has helped me be a happier, more satisfied person.

But whether we talk standards, or, expectations, both United Airlines and Progressive failed miserably to deliver recently.

1.  It seems that United Airlines did not provide the promised escort for a 10-year-old girl transferring from one flight to another at Chicago’s O’Hare.  The child was abandoned in the airport for two hours and could not even find someone who would let her call home, despite repeated requests for help to airline staff.

2.  Progressive not only refused to pay out on the insurance policy following the death of a young woman in a car accident, they actually paid the lawyers that defended the person allegedly responsible for the crash and resulting death in the civil suit filed by the woman’s family.

Mistakes are possible, even inevitable.  It is people who work for and make up companies and errors, lapses, gaps, gaffes and blunders happen. The true measure of the quality and reliability of a company is demonstrated by how mistakes and problems are handled and how the people involved are treated, or restitution made.

Here, expectations and standards pretty much dovetail and the companies have failed these clients abysmally in both areas.

These stories stunned and saddened me, leaving me aghast at the poor judgment and lack of basic values exhibited by these two companies, and their management.

Would you trust these companies now?  Would you choose to fly United, if you had a choice?  Would you buy insurance from Progressive?  This is an instance when you can vote with your feet by taking your business elsewhere.

When you cannot delivery against standards, you will never be able to meet expectations, which, due to human nature, are naturally always quite high.