A Day On The Salt Flats: Salar De Uyuni

For over a month or so prior to my arrival in Bolivia, I had been seeing photos of the Salar De Uyuni salt flats pop up on my Facebook feed on a daily basis. It seemed like everyone I had met so far on my trip, was passing through the Bolivian salt flats, while I had stopped to live in Buenos Aires for a couple months. I was already looking forward to Salar De Uyuni, but after seeing this constant stream of really cool photos, I was overwhelmed with excitement by the time I arrived in Uyuni.

Originally, I was planning on doing the 3 day salt flat tour, where you travel from San Pedro De Aticama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia in a jeep. This is one of the most popular ways for backpackers to enter Bolivia. I heard great things about this tour, but I decided that I was too tight on time and I wasn’t enjoying having to travel so fast. Therefore, I chose to just do a 1-day tour of the salt flats from the nearby city of Uyuni, to save a few days, so I could slow down my pace of travel.

This story will talk about the importance of managing expectations and of avoiding over promising. When I went to book my tour, I found a company that looked good and I really liked the sales rep. In my mind, I had already decided that I was going to book with her, but I let her give her sales pitch.

Then she started making a bunch of unnecessary promises. She said she needed me on the tour because I was a guy and so far she only had groups of attractive female backpackers signed up. She also said that there would be a maximum of 6 people in the jeep, unlike other companies that completely fill their vehicles. I booked the tour and left, excited for the next day to come.

When I arrived for the tour the next day, the groups of girls that the lady had promised were no where to be seen. My group consisted of a couple from Argentina and two older men from Spain. A promise was broken before the tour even started.

When I was choosing a tour company, my criteria did not involve being in a group with a bunch of attractive girls, but when the lady made this promise, this was now my expectation. Everyone in my group was really cool, but it didn’t change the fact that a promise was broken and expectations were not met.

The day started with several stops before actually arriving at the salt flats, one being the Train Graveyard.

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Train Graveyard

When we finally made our way out to the Salar De Uyuni salt flats, we pulled over at a hotel and another couple hopped into the jeep. Now the jeep was completely full and I was crammed in the back corner of the back seat with very little space. Another promise broken.This would not have bothered me in the slightest if the lady had not promised extra space in the jeep. I actually expected a full jeep, after hearing stories from friends. However, the sales lady raised my expectations and did not deliver.

Although, I wasn’t very impressed with the company so far, the salt flats themselves were a magical place. Salar De Uyuni is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  It would have been hard to not have a smile on my face and strong feelings of gratitude as I looked out over the salt flats that stretched as far as the eye could see.

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Salar De Uyuni

RIMG1963 RIMG1990As I mentioned above, I had seen so many people posting really cool photos from the salt flats on Facebook over the past few weeks and I was looking forward to creating my own. I had heard that the guides will usually show the group how to manipulate distances to create really interesting photos.

I expected our guide to do the same, but instead he just told us we could get out of the jeep and take some photos. This was frustrating since none of us knew how to do the photos properly and no guidance was given. Although the sales lady did not specifically tell me that the guide would help us take photos, another of my expectations was not met.

I also felt like a bit of a 7th wheel to the group. There were two couples and then two close friends. They were all off in pairs, taking photos, and I found myself left on my own quite often. I usually love traveling solo and meeting new people, but I found myself wishing I had joined this tour with a friend.

Later in the day, when most of the group left to do an optional hike, I stayed back and drank Mate with the Argentinian couple. This was one of the most enjoyable things I had done all day. Sitting, socializing and making new friends was a nice break from driving around in a crowded jeep, being told when to get out of the vehicle and when to get back in.

While we were waiting for the others, we decided to take some more photos out on the salt flats. Finally, I was able to get some decent ones.

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Canada and Argentina VS Dinosaur

RIMG2011 We ended the day, watching a beautiful sun set over the salt flats.

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Salar De Uyuni at sunset

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With my Argentinian friends, Martin and Romina

RIMG2044 In the end, I had a good day, but I would not recommend the tour company. The salt flats are impressive enough and the people in my group were fun enough for me to have enjoyed myself, but I was not happy with the customer service experience.

This is because the tour company over promised and under delivered and no matter how great a service or product is, a customer will not be fully happy with the experience when their expectations are not met. This is why it is so critical to under promise and over deliver.

I learned this principal the hard way during my first year in business. I learned that managing expectations is one of the most important requirements in creating a great customer experience. I learned that I could offer the exact same product or service to two different customers and get complete polar opposite feedback from the two.

I found that it was completely dependent on the customer’s expectations. If one person had really high expectations and my service did not meet them, then they would be disappointed. Whereas, if the other had lower expectations and I exceeded them, they would be ecstatic. The exact same service created two completely different customer experiences and the only difference was their expectations. Can you think of some examples in your own life where this principal held true?

This is not just with business and customers. This principle holds true in any and all interactions we have with people. I thought that it would be beneficial for all of us to learn from this story and to find some areas in our life that we can implement or improve on this principal in order to better our lives.

 

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