In the UK National Health Service patients are increasingly seen as consumers of a service. This longitudinal study examined the information sources and criteria used by women when choosing, using and evaluating maternity care. The aim was to illustrate how services might be planned around patients’ criteria. This study encompasses listening to and understanding what a cohort of women are expecting and experiencing in receiving maternity care, and their interaction with a newly designed Maternity Unit in an NHS Trust. Perceptions of the service throughout the process of service delivery were recorded, and an early assessment of the likely impact of perceptions of the service received upon future choice of healthcare provision was requested. This was done via group and one-to-one interviews with both patients and midwives. This research provides information which should enable management to manage customer expectations more accurately and so build competitive advantage. Three issues are highlighted for management attention: the process of sharing information is crucial in enabling satisfactory fulfilment of the roles involved in midwifery care; co-operation is the building block for developing trust and shared values is the context necessary for practising the flexibility implicit in provision of midwifery services.