Managing expectations


Weird thing happened this week.


Well, actually, a tropical storm.

Ahead of landfall, I was paying attention to the news. I donít happen to live near where it was approaching, but I once did. Know plenty of people that do live in the area. Wanted to be aware of things from their perspective, and reached out to a few in case they needed some help.

From all the information I was looking at, one thing really struck me. It involved details of an announcement from a power company. Essentially said people should prepare for a service disruptions of five to ten days.

I need to point out that we are about to step off a curbóso to speakóand into a realm of opinion and wandering thought. Iím not identifying locations or business names for very specific reasons. Mainly, they are the items that kicked off the progression and not the real debate that we arrive at down the road. I have zero evidence that any of this is accurate, just that it is fascinating to think it might be, and that it has some really interesting applications to other scenarios if used.

Got it? Good. Here we goÖ

I have seen decades of storms in my lifetime. Nothing unusual there. Many of us have. And along with those become the associated elements such as physical danger, property damage and disrupted services.

You understand. People can get hurt. Buildings can be destroyed. The power can go out. Pretty straightforward.

(Hereís where it gets funny.)

People have become trained by what Iíd describe as a heightened sense of immediacy. We want results and information. Now. Right now. Weíve roared beyond the arrival of twenty-four-hour news cycles into pulling out our phones and expecting updates within seconds. (Sarcasm alert: Accuracy not always included.)

To a large degree, this sense of immediacy has come to define our lives. Free two-day shipping brings about being unsatisfied and disappointed by free four or five day shipping. We want what we want and we want it an hour ago. (So much for patience and virtues.)

Which brings me back around to those storms.

I went through lots of power outages as a kid. Some of them were brought about by strong storms. Generational storms. Fill the bathtub with water just in case storms. I donít ever recall up-to-the-minute status reports being available, including the number of houses without power and whether or not a crew was assigned.

When I was young and the power went out, you didnít go online to see the disruption of service area. You hopped on your bike, rode around a bit, then came back home. Youíd report that the lights were out on however many streets, all the way to the insert-name-of-kid-in-your-school-parents-know-here house. (Modify the eight-year-oldís report as appropriate.)

Not today. Today there are apps and web sites and more. Just grab the phone and start the search. Report the outage. Get text updates. Go go go.

(Once, I learned how outdated e-mail is. Yup. Outdated. I got a text message from the power company saying service had been restored. So, by the time I next checked my e-mails and had a similar message there, the news was old and unnecessary.)

A few years ago, we got hit by a storm that knocked the power out for multiple days. As you might imagine, this caused a massive backlash. People were upset they didnít have electricity. Accusations of incompetence. Questions about how equipment was maintained and updated. And, a few steps above all that, a collective cry wondering what the hell was taking so long to get the power back on. (Iím sure the outcry would have been even worse had people remembered to charge their phones before the storm.)

Remember at the beginning I mentioned that something about this storm struck me? I noted that there were announcements that people should prepare for power loss that could last five to ten days. And, what I didnít say at that time was my problem with it: Was this extended outage estimate an actual possibility?

Now, letís pause for a moment. Think about the ground weíve covered.

Growing up, you had this untested trust in service providers of all types. You were the customer, and would pay for the service. They were the provider, and in return for your business they would do their best to maintain the service. Simple.

I think a lot of people are chuckling a bit at that last paragraph. Theyíre thinking about the good old days and muttering about how itís all profit and doing as little as possible now.

So, I ask: Was the five to ten days of power outage a real possibility? Or, was the company floating this five to ten days thing out there, so if they got power back up in three or four to almost everyone they would look good?

(My words) Company spokesperson was reached: ďHey, look at that. We expected things to be bad. Told you five or more days. But thanks to our hard-working staff we got it back in four days. Youíre welcome.Ē

I have to admit, with my critical and pessimistic moments of thought, Iím a bit more than slightly skeptical about it being real. I truly find myself wondering if itís possible that instead of being a kind and thoughtful message for preparedness to customers, this is an attempt to manage expectations and spin the public relations part of the narrative.

Knowing more is a great thing. Ease of information access is wonderful. I do appreciate the immediacy.

But I have to admit, I kind of miss riding my bike for the news while trusting that those providing my services were doing their best with my interests out front. Those were good old days.


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