Sunday, 27 November 2011

Managing expectations

Have you ever been out for a few drinks with friends. Maybe you’ve had more to drink than usual. What happens next? Well the answer seems to depend on which country you and the people you’re drinking with come from.

It seems that in some countries, people take the view that alcohol is so strong and people are so weak that anything is permissible. You can stand up in court and explain your actions – whatever they may be – by saying that you’d drunk too much. In other countries – like Italy – alcohol is grouped with food in the minds of people. You drink when you eat. You eat and drink with your friends and family. Using the defence of excessive alcohol would seem as absurd as using the defence of having eaten too many burgers to explain antisocial behaviour.

And it’s exactly the same with users. If they expect nanosecond response times to a CICS transaction they will be miffed when a response takes a second or two. Whereas, if they are used to a response taking a few seconds, they will be pleased when it takes less than two seconds for their screen to refresh.

Managing expectations can be the difference between happy users and unhappy users. In the same way it can be the difference between alcoholic destruction of everything on the way home and a great night out.

Banks seem to use the opposite technique. They pretend that they offer great service, but as every customer knows, they don’t. The news is always full of demands that the banks should lone more – particularly to small businesses. Speaking as the owner of a small business, I think this is not the real problem. I think the problem for most small businesses is the fact that banks charge too much for their services.

Now I don’t mind banks charging for the work they do – that’s the same model I use to stay in business! What I object to is the amount they charge. And I think this is part of the problem most small businesses face. For example, here in the UK, I get a lot of dollar cheques from the USA. I get an exchange rate that’s clearly in the bank’s favour and then I get charged for paying the money into my account. I get charged for paying in UK cheques. And I get charged even more for paying in cash!

So I guess my expectations are that banks are going to rip me off. They do nothing to manage that and make things better. And they really are the reason that a lot of small businesses are having a hard time during this recession – or whatever we’re calling it.

Just revisiting the psychology again. There are experiments where two groups of students were given free drinks all evening. Both groups got equally drunk. Then the experimenters explained that one group had drunk alcohol and the other group hadn’t. Once this second group were told they hadn’t had any alcohol, they immediately sobered up. Their expectations changed completely and they now behaved in a different way.

So, while IT strives to offer the best service to its users. It’s important that conversations take place between the two groups so that users can describe their expectations of the service they want to receive, and IT can explain how the service is being delivered and give a realistic idea of what an end user shoould expect. Most sites have SLAs (Service Level Agreements), but these tend to be gathering dust somewhere rather than being constantly referred to. The importance of the conversation is to manage expectations and make sure both groups can continue to work, happy in the knowledge that they are getting or delivering the level of service that everyone expects.

Don’t forget that on Thursday 1 December there’s a webinar entitled: “How Important is the Continuous Availability of Your Critical Applications?” at 2pm GMT. You can register for the event at

And this is the last week that you can complete the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook user survey at We need all the completed surveys by Friday evening.

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