same experience“License and registration, please.”

Just minutes earlier, I’d been cruising along minding my own business. Now, I was scrambling to find my registration and insurance papers. At the time, I wasn’t too upset, because I knew the trooper had caught me going the regular speed limit in a work zone. Granted, he was only parked about 100 yards into the zone, but I knew I was technically going too fast.

Prepared to take my medicine, I was unprepared for what the trooper said next.

“You know, I wasn’t going to pull you over, but you didn’t slow down fast enough after you saw me, so that’s why I’m giving you a ticket. Maybe you’ll remember that the next time you see a cop.”

In two sentences, I went from being resigned about my ticket to irritated. I didn’t get pulled over for speeding. I got pulled over because I didn’t hit the brakes hard enough.

This exchange illustrates an all-too-common mistake that I’ve seen many entrepreneurs make. Instead of consistently applying the expected standard, customers get different treatment. Now, it would be one thing if it was about delivering an awesome, customized experience ala Zappos. Unfortunately, it’s more likely to be someone’s personal interpretation of whether that missing piece of tape means you haven’t included all the original packaging.

There’s no question we need a standard, but we’re failing our customers and our businesses if we apply those standards arbitrarily. With that mindset, every customer interaction becomes a gamble, and it doesn’t take long before customers go looking for a more consistent experience.

To be clear, it’s not about tying our hands when it comes to delivering stellar service. It is about avoiding unpleasant surprises that upset customers.

Think about the businesses you like buying from and the businesses you avoid like the plague. I’m willing to bet the businesses you like best deliver a predictable exchange.

And the ones you hate? Every interaction is painful because you don’t know how you’ll be treated THIS time.

There are so many things outside our control as entrepreneurs. Yet time after time, I watch business owners downplay the power of treating customers consistently. By setting and meeting expectations, we protect both ourselves and our customers. The minute we start applying those rules based on random logic is the moment we set up ourselves — and our businesses — to fail.