Zone of Tolerance

A dissatisfied breakfast customer during my stay at the Premier Inn in Sunderland City Centre prompted me to write this blog entry.

As I was sat doing some reading in to the use of social media for recruiting postgraduate students whilst having my breakfast in the Premier Inn, a gentleman came in and sat on the table next to me. Shortly after, the waiter ventured over and took the guys ‘hot food’ order. The waiter then took the order of another gentlemen on another table before both gentlemen continued to drink their coffees and await their food.

After a short while, the gentlemen that ordered second received his breakfast first and it didn’t take long for the first gentlemen (on the table next to me) to get the attention of the waiter and in annoyance asked what was going on. The waiter replied saying his was ready and that he was just going to get in from the kitchen and true to his word he delivered the gentleman’s breakfast literally 30 seconds later. At this point, the gentleman didn’t say thank you and was seriously annoyed that he received his breakfast after the other man.

For me, I wouldn’t have been bothered about waiting another 30 seconds, which intrigued me to witness two difference of opinions on the exact same service. This is a prime example of customer satisfaction being closely linked to expectations. The gentleman in question clearly expects a chronological order to serving food in restaurants, which I agree isn’t too much to ask. However, I wouldn’t be too fussed. I immediately concluded that I must have a wider ‘zone of tolerance’ than the gentleman on the table next to me.

The zone of tolerance is the area between two boundaries. The first boundary is linked to adequate service, which is the minimum level the customer will accept – anything below this level will lead to dissatisfaction. At the other end, is desired service, where anything over that level of service will lead to a delighted customer. Anything in between will meet expectations and perhaps not make the customer overly think about the service they received – the zone of tolerance.

Therefore with premier inn breakfasts, the boundary to meet my adequate service level is clearly lower than the gentleman’s on the table next to me, which perhaps links to my expectations. As a result, I ponder over whether this gentleman is used to going to high end restaurants and as such has a higher expectation level. Or perhaps he was in a rush and therefore his zone of tolerance narrowed. Likewise maybe he values his breakfast more than I, and therefore the importance of certain factors associated with breakfast mean more to this customer than they do to myself.

All of these issues raised are clear examples of how unpredictable customers can be, and how the exact same service may satisfy one customer and dissatisfy another. Hopefully this highlights just how difficult it can be for senior managers to provide a service that aims to delight everyone!


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