Are You Exceeding Their Expectations?

by Jacquelyn Manson

An exciting thing happened on November 1,2013.  AENC launched its first ever Marketing & Communications Conference, better known as M&CC.   I asked Jim Thompson, Executive Director of AENC, why the association decided to take a chance and launch a new event.  This was his response,

“In late 2012, AENC conducted a comprehensive professional development survey for our association management members. One thing became very clear. Most folks didn’t find value in our Speakers Showcase. So, we went back to members again and asked if they thought we should eliminate the program and if so, what would they replace it with. We got an overwhelming 65% that said eliminate the event and many of those suggested we offer a Marketing & Communications program. Our Professional Development committee got to work and created the program and we are all really excited about the launch!”

Over 185 people agreed and attended the M&CC at the Sheraton Chapel Hill hotel.  Attendees learned about the Communication Challenges Facing Today’s Association when Charles Popper, Naylor LLC, presented the 2013 Association Communications Benchmark Study. Then they chose from six breakout sessions to attend to learn a number of marketing techniques from conducting a communication audit, using the mass media to communicate your message to marketing on a budget and understanding when to hire an agency versus completing a marketing campaign in-house. 


After all that listening, learning and absorbing, attendees got a chance to network and visit some of the exhibitors before heading upstairs to hear Stan Phelps of 9 Inch Marketing give the keynote lunch address on Creating the WOW – Little Things Make the Biggest Difference.

Stan explained to the crowd why he named his company 9 Inch Marketing – because it is the distance from the stem of your brain to the top of your heart. According to Stan, it’s the longest and hardest distance to travel in marketing because marketing has become full of hype, offers and programs.  These campaigns attract people’s eyes and ears, but not their heart. They are not sustainable nor can they be reproduced on a small scale.

Stan went on to say we need to return to creating an experience and focus on retention. A referral is 4-times as valuable as a cold lead.  When associations/organizations asked their members the following question in a survey, “How likely are you to recommend this organization to a colleague or friend?” here were the results:

On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being least likely to recommend and 10 being most likely to recommend the association to a colleague or friend.

  • If a 9 or 10 was checked, these are your promoters and biggest fans. Focus on exceeding their expectations.
  • If a 7 or 8 was checked, these are passive members – not likely to promote or say anything negative about the association.
  • If a 6 or below was checked, these are detractors.

To sum it up, either you are exceeding the expectations of your members/customers or you are not!

Stan told us about a journey he undertook to search for 1001 examples of businesses and associations that exceeded his expectations – little things that made a difference to him. It took him 27 months to finish the project he now calls, The Purple Goldfish Project.

Stan came up with the name from an experience he had and a custom he learned about during his travels.  First, the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurants has a program in place where they will bring a goldfish to you to keep you company during your stay.  Second, there is a custom in New Orleans where the merchant gives a gift to a visitor/customer called: Lagniappe.(pronounced: Lan-yap). 

Stan categorized some of the experience that exceeded his expectations. Here are a few examples of how companies and associations exceeded his expectations during the 27 months:

  • Throw in something extra: Doubletree Hotels offers guests their famous chocolate chip cookies.
  • Sampling:  Izzy’s Ice Cream shop gives you a free small scoop of ice cream on the top of your order – it’s call “the izzy”.
  • First and Last Impressions matter!  Zappos shoe company offers free shipping and returns throughout the year.
  • Always follow up: Simply saying thank you or writing a handwritten thank you note will never go out of style.
  • Added service:  Safe Light Repair will come to your office and repair your window. While you are waiting for the repair to be completed, they clean your windows and vacuum your car.
  • Recognition: North Carolina Technology Association nominates members for various business and community awards throughout the year.
  • Handling Mistakes:  Sending a handwritten note saying you are sorry can make a difference in retaining your member/customer.

In the 80s, Walt Disney decided to host a parade for their guests on Christmas day.  His idea was met with skepticism from every department. They felt the customers would not even notice they were missing this experience.  Walt felt this was exactly why they needed to do it – to exceed their expectations.

Executives and customers were asked the following questions in a survey: do you think you are providing superior service to your customers/members and do you think you are receiving superior service from the company/association?  The results show a huge gap in perception and reality.  Eighty percent of executives thought they were providing a superior experience to their customers. While, only 8% of their customers said they were receiving a superior experience.  Creating the WOW takes research, time, training and buy-in from the staff, executives and boards. But, when you discover your Purple Goldfish, design a program to execute it and then deploy it, you will see results in your retention.

Stan surprised everyone at the luncheon when he went the extra mile and offered each person a free copy of his book, What’s your Purple Goldfish, How to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth, if redeemed by midnight on  Now, that is how you exceed expectations! 

Thank you to the following M&CC sponsors:  Sheraton Chapel Hill, Host Sponsor; Colonial Williamsburg, Program Sponsor; A&V Company, Audio-Visual Partner; Vernon Computer Source, Technology Partner