Expectations, Caring and a Tale of Two Trees
As my husband and I were comparing schedules this morning, trying to figure out when we will get the chance to get the annual Christmas tree, I was reminded of the contrasting experiences we’ve had in the past and how critical it is to deliver on expectations and show that you care.
Year-before-last, we put off buying our Christmas tree until the last minute. With only two days to spare, before Saint Nick was to hurl himself down our chimney laden with gifts, we made the trek up to northern Westchester County to find our tree. We had some romantic idea about walking through the snow and cutting down our own, but when we reached the famed-tree-farm, all we found were stumps. Luckily, Google Maps came to the rescue, guiding us to a nearby tree-competitor, and we adopted our woeful-looking Charlie Brown Christmas tree and took it home. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was ours.
Last year, we vowed to be more on top of things! So on the first day of tree-cutting-season, we packed into the Prius and headed north! I tend to be a loyal-creature, so without hesitation we went back to the birthplace of last year’s tree, with money to spend, and what we saw was… Well… it was sad. That’s probably the only way to describe it.
You see, we had made some assumptions. We assumed that the reason all the trees looked so dodgy last year was because it was at the end of the season – that the good ones had all been taken. We assumed that the reason the place was empty was because everyone else on the planet who celebrates Christmas was more prepared than we, and were spending their last weekend before the holiday singing carols and sipping hot cocoa around their tree instead scrambling to buy one. We assumed that the reason the “bakery” was bleak and dirty was because we were were past the date of festivity. Turned out we assumed wrong.
All the trees, even on the first day of tree-cutting-season, were dodgy. The place was empty, except for some family members that were there to hand you a saw and collect your $80. And the bakery? It looked like it hadn’t been touched since last season. But they did have hot cider and stale donuts for $4.50. It broke my loyal heart.
We bought the cider and the donuts, climbed into the Prius, mapped our way to the other tree farm, and found our way to tree heaven.
Yes, it’s true, last December we found tree heaven. But don’t worry, I won’t keep it from you. It’s called Wilken’s Farm in Yorktown, NY, and it was wonderful! What an operation! Hundreds of beautiful trees from which to choose. Gleeful children running around, laughing and smiling with their families. Strapping young teenage-boys ready to help. Holiday music. Picnic tables and hay-bale-piles. A scrumptious bakery lit with twinkle lights offering mouth-watering-treats and FREE hot cider. And when I paid for my tree and wreath, they gave me a free ornament! How cool was that?! It was tree-farm-heaven I tell you! Exactly what we had expected and just a little more.
Were my expectations askew? I don’t think so. If I’m going to spend $80 for a Christmas tree, I expect it to be somewhat Christmas-tree-shaped, healthy enough to last the month, and green. I didn’t expect perfect.
I expected that if there was a bakery, that it would be clean and the food fresh. Not perfect.
I expected that if I were going to drive 45 minutes from home to get a tree, instead of to the Home Depot 5 minutes away, that the experience would make it worthwhile. But the experience didn’t need to be perfect.
If the Charlie-Brown-tree-farm had delivered on my expectations, they would have our business – probably for years. If they were to kick in “a little more” I’d probably shout it out to the world (because that’s just my style). But they didn’t. Boo.
Wilken’s wasn’t perfect, it was a working farm, for goodness sake, but the imperfections were easy to overlook because they met my expectations and gave just a little more, which let me know they cared.
And what did that “little more” cost them? The free cider? The ornament (that had Wilken’s Farm on it – so it served a marketing purpose)? The young boys working minimum wage helping the hundreds of customers milling about for trees? The music they played? It wasn’t that they spent a lot that made the difference – it was that they thought about the experience from the customer’s perspective, delivered on our expectations – and gave us just a little more. They cared.
And now, my heart belongs to Wilken’s Farm. And I’m trying to figure out how, with our crazy schedules, we’re going to make it out there this year, out of tradition. And I’ll continue to tell everyone I know (and blog about it). And we’ll be one of the many laughing-smiling-families running about in search of the perfect Christmas tree for years to come. Because that’s what happens when you meet expectations and you show that you care. People are looking for a reason to be loyal.
This seems like such an obvious thing, when you look at it from a customer-experience-perspective, but (like it or not) it’s equally applicable from a leadership-perspective. People show up in our workplaces filled with enthusiasm and energy to spend, looking for a reason to stick around – to give their best. Nobody begins a new position or a new job hoping it will be a bust. If, as leaders, we can simply put ourselves in their shoes, deliver on expectations and give just a little more – simply let them know that we care – then we can harness a relationship that will pay dividends for years to come.
Deliver on expectations and let others know you care. You can harness relationships that will pay dividends for years to come.
Are you doing that? How do you know?
Because unless you have hoards of people laughing and smiling around your metaphorical-tree-farm, it might be worth asking the question.
©OnStage Leadership, 2015
Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying! If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, Presentation Skills, or being BRAVE at work, we’d love to hear from you!
If you haven’t had a chance, check out my recent Tedx talk or my interview with Alise Cortez (Yes! The same Alise who is featured in this post!) on Voice of America’s Working on Purpose Channel: Bringing Our True and Best Selves to Work: Cultivating Authentic Leadership with Kimberly Davis.