Whether you are in a professional or personal relationship, setting authentic expectations up front can really create a foundation for the relationship’s longevity. 

If you do something when you first interact with a prospective customer (or partner), they will expect that to be the norm.  If you decide you no longer can or want to do that something, then you look like a jerk. 

For example, I buy a lot online from prestige cosmetics retailer Sephora.  Even though their products are pricey, they won me over originally with a number of sexy offers, from free shipping and free samples to a points program and free gift packaging.

At some point in the last 12 months or so, they took away the free gift packaging online- it now ranges from $2-4 per order.  This does not break the bank in any way and theoretically shouldn’t matter as I buy more for myself than I do as gifts there, but I still feel cheated.  Why?  They set the expectation that free gift packaging was part of their offer.  The worst part is that they didn’t need for it to come to this; the other offers were enough to win me over as a customer, but they went too far, offering something that they couldn’t fulfill long term and now it is a deficiency in my customer relationship with them.

There are plenty of other businesses that are affected by their expectations.  The spa that I frequent always has a coupon, so I won’t go if I can’t get the discount.  Many of my friends won’t buy their Clinique makeup if it is not “bonus time” because it is almost always bonus time somewhere.  If you make something the norm, your customers will expect it.

People do this all of the time in personal relationships too.  A woman may show off her domestic skills early in a relationship by cooking and doing housework and a man may try to woo a woman by bringing her flowers weekly.  That becomes the expectation.  However, if you can’t authentically keep that up over time, when you stop, it becomes a loss. 

When I met my husband, I was very clear that I don’t cook, I don’t clean and I really don’t do much of anything that would be considered “domestic”.  Now, I had to bring something of value to the relationship, so I was clear about all of the things that he would find valuable, such as the fact that I love sports ranging from football to MMA, that I am independent (financially and otherwise), that I am fairly low maintenance (personally, not professionally) and also a few other things that my husband would not be pleased if I wrote about, but let’s just say they add lots of value to a marriage.  These are all things authentic to who I am and not something that I struggle with fulfilling.

Now, if I ever do anything domestic (which is very rare, but does happen once in a great while), I become a hero because it is out of the ordinary- it is not expected.  This creates a very different situation than if I had pretended up front that I love to iron and then couldn’t keep up that charade.

Your business needs to do this as well.  You need to have an outstanding value proposition to the customer, but it has to be something that you can keep up long term.  Sephora never needed to offer the free gift packaging as an “always” perk.  They could have done a special offer with orders over a certain size or if you reach a certain level in their loyalty program.  Then it would have been a benefit, not an eventual deficiency.

Think hard about the expectations you set with your customers (and everyone else too).  Nothing good ever comes from someone saying, “You don’t bring me flowers anymore…”.