We start this post by using a traffic light as an analog for consistent performance.

Imagine you are driving to work on Monday on the same

route your have driven for 5 years.  You see a traffic light change from green to yellow and for just a split-second you think about hitting the gas pedal to get through the intersection before the light changes to red.  Instead, you slow down and stop because you know the light will stay red for 2 minutes and that will not mess up your arrival time.

Now imagine that instead of 2 minutes the light remains red for 3 minutes. You will be surprised and the last minute will feel like an eternity.  The same thing happens the next day except the light remains red for 4 minutes. On Thursday, the light is red for 45 seconds. Friday morning at the same spot you see the light turn from green to yellow – what do you do?  Slow down because the red may only be on for 1 minute or speed up and try to make it across quickly because the red light may be on for 4 minutes (or longer)?  Inconsistent experiences drive inconsistent, and unsettling, expectations.

When experiences align with expectations we clearly know what to expect and we can make plans around this “fact.”  For example, if you know that when you email a technical support question to your equipment supplier they always take between 1 and 1½ hours to respond, so you reach out to them and then go to lunch knowing the response will arrive in your inbox soon after you finish eating.  But what happens if they are inconsistent with their response time? You contact tech support when you know you will be at the equipment for at least 2 hours (based on previous experiences).  Before tech support reaches out to you, your boss asks you to come to her office.  She has a new, and important, project to turn over to you.  You go to her office but in the back of your mind, you are worrying that you will miss the return call from tech support and have to begin a game of telephone tag.  Stress mounts and you start hating the equipment supplier.

So far, nothing major results from the inconsistency.  But what if the new project requires purchasing a new piece of equipment?  While the incumbent has an advantage because you know how to use the equipment, etc., you may feel that another supplier’s product may also be easy to use and their tech support group may have its stuff together and provide an overall better experience.  The trade-off is the short-term pain of learning a new piece of equipment or the long-term stress caused by uncertainty with tech support.

Do you want to be the tech support manager when your Sales VP reports to the CEO that a long-time customer purchased a competitor’s product because your tech support “sucks”?  I don’t think so!