Exceed Expectations

We should all try to exceed our customers' expectations, especially in the current economic climate.

The e-mail subject line read “Greetings from the University of Richmond.” That got my attention because my youngest son is a junior there. Like most parents of students, so-called greetings from your child’s school tend to ring alert bells. In my case, I opened the message with trepidation, wondering what was wrong.

My suspicions arise from experience. My three older children all managed to get university degrees, and I’m very proud of them for doing so. It’s not easy. However, not once in their college career did I receive “greetings” from the university. So the message from Richmond seemed unusual to say the least.

As I read further, my apprehension quickly changed to appreciation. “Hi—my name is Joe Hoyle,” the e-mail began. “I am an associate professor of accounting here at the University of Richmond. Your son or daughter is currently in my Intermediate Accounting II course. Most of my students gave me e-mail addresses for their parents so I could communicate a bit with you over the course of the semester.” Wow, I thought to myself, “this guy is just keeping us informed. My son is not flunking out—what a relief.”

With the cloud of dread lifted, I proceeded to read and enjoy what Professor Hoyle had to say. He has been writing to parents of his accounting classes since 2001. As a parent of two sons in college, he was frustrated at not knowing what they were doing in class. “I paid a lot of money over a number of years for their college educations,” he writes, “and rarely felt that I had a real comprehension of their educational experiences. When I asked either of them about their classes, I usually got vague responses like, I’m studying, I’m reading, I go to class, I hang out, and so on.” Sound familiar?

Professor Hoyle chose to communicate with his students’ parents of this particular class because it is generally considered the most difficult and challenging course in the School of Business and perhaps the entire university. “This is the truly scary course,” he says. “I do this for one reason only—to keep you updated a very little bit on what is going on in one of your son’s or daughter’s classes.”

He continues describing his teaching method (Socratic) and expectations from the students. For example, he expects 2 to 3 hours of preparation for each class and woe to the student who is not prepared. By now I’m really impressed by this professor’s professionalism. He’s been at Richmond since 1979 and in 2007 was named Virginia Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. I’m very pleased that my son pulled Professor Hoyle. I think he is one of those life-turning teachers that most of us remember somewhere along the educational path.

I responded back to Professor Hoyle immediately. I told him a bit about myself and my work here at Production Machining. I wrote: “My readers are from machine shops of various stripes trying to survive in a very competitive market.” One of my on-going themes is the need to differentiate your company through customer service. I try to convey the idea that making good parts on your machines is not your competitive advantage.

Technology is democratic. Anybody can install advanced manufacturing equipment and make good parts. Asia proves that. Advantage comes from doing more for the customer, exceeding expectations such as delivering earlier than promised, changing a process to reduce the quote price but still maintain a margin and making part design suggestions to the customer. These allow for lower manufacturing costs.

Professor Hoyle understands that we parents are his customers. We pay a lot of money to his university, and his unique effort to keep us looped in is an unexpected, yet greatly appreciated, value-add. For my wife and me, he exceeds our expectations. We should all try to exceed our customers’ expectations, especially in the current economic climate. 