By Tim Fulton
Two weeks ago, my wife and I ventured
off to see a movie. Such opportunities
are rare for us and we were looking
forward to the time away from the
house to see this highly rated movie. About half-way through the movie, a fire
alarm was set off, the house lights came on, and the movie came to a
Next came an interesting display of human behavior. About a third of the
audience went racing out of the theater in fear of being scorched. Another
third (we included) stood up and moved out to the aisles not really sure
what to do. The remaining portion of the audience stayed in their seats
munching hour-old popcorn wondering what the fuss was about.
Those of us that stayed, waited for directions from the theater management.
Should we exit? Should we stay? How long would the delay be? Thirty minutes
passed and not a single communication from anyone associated with the
theater. Several patrons ventured out into the lobby to find out that there
had not been a fire and that theater personnel were attempting to revive the
What was most aggravating about this entire situation was not the wait. We
just assumed that there would be a delay prior to the continuation of the
film. What was most upsetting about this situation was the uncertainty we
faced as customers of this establishment. How long would the delay be? Will
refunds be made available if we chose to leave? What caused the
I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes in the field of Customer
“Customers don’t measure service in terms of minute, instead customer
service is measured in degrees of uncertainty.”
What could the theater have done differently? A theater representative
should have addressed the audience within several minutes of the delay and
explained the nature of the delay and the approximate wait time. I am
confident that the vast majority of the customers would have been quite
satisfied with that effort and would have stayed for the remainder of the
show. Instead, a significant number of patrons left the theater and those of
us that stayed were not “happy campers”.
I have been a victim of these instances of customer dis-service on many
occasions. So have you. It happens at airports, restaurants, auto repair
shops, and many others. The uncertainty may be related to product delivery,
follow-up, payment due, employee changes, and in some cases the viability of
the provider. Rather than step up and be pro-active in their communication
with customers, companies instead decide that their customers are better off
not knowing what’s going on. They don’t trust customers to make good
decisions based on good information. What a shame.
Employers are also guilty of doing this to their internal customers.
Employees are often times uncertain as to why and how key decisions are
being made. They are kept waiting too know how and when to proceed with a
given task. Again, employees don’t measure their manager’s effectiveness by
the length of the delay but instead by the amount of uncertainty at hand.
What can you do to minimize the amount of uncertainty your customers face?