Are you making promises you can’t keep?

December 17, 2007 Branding Comments (0) 133

I’m sure you’ve all read the news about the few bad apples at one leading consulting firm who have cost the jobs and pensions hundreds, if not thousands of people. Both the consulting firm
and its client have lost large numbers of customers, again, because of the actions of these few individuals.

To read some the press reports, we apparently should be surprised by the customer defections,┬ábut losing those customers isn’t unexpected is it? After all, a relationship with a customer is based on trust-trust that’s built on a series of promises that a company has kept. Break a big promise and you’re immediately history. Not unlike our consultant friends above, whose primary promise was to assure shareholders that their client was financially sound.

On the other hand, breaking a small promise usually doesn’t result in the immediate termination of a customer relationship. Rather, it takes breaking several small promises to erode the relationship to the point of no return. Why would anyone want to do business with a company that doesn’t keep it’s promises? As the television character Gomer Pyle says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

All it takes is a “wrong” word or inconsiderate action by one individual to start the ball rolling. How many customers have you lost due to broken promises brought upon by the actions of one or two individuals? Do you know? I would suggest you will not know if you’re breaking the small promises. These customers aren’t going to complain, they’re just going to gradually slip away to your competitors. You’ll never know what promises you’ve broken or how often you’ve broken them, so repairing the relationship will be difficult, if not impossible.

Fortunately,fixing this mess will be easier for you and your company than it will be those firms we mentioned earlier in this article. But, before we talk about how to “make things right”, let’s look at some of the biggest causes of broken promises:

  • External messages. What literal promises are you making in your advertising, marketing or customer service messages? Are you promising 24/7 service, or satisfaction guaranteed? Maybe your promises are more subjective, like one insurance company’s “Like a good neighbor…” tagline. Are you fulfilling these promises? Can you fulfill these promises?Next, look at how your messages can be perceived by your target audiences or the public at large. Can an implied promise be read into your message that would lead someone to believe that you’re not keeping your promises? This can be especially true if your promise results from the ambiguity of a great tagline that is so subjective there’s little chance you’ll be able to fulfill everyone’s expectations.
  • Actions of staff. More often than not, the reason for broken promises has more to do with the actions of people, rather than the message presented. In the case of the previously mentioned insurance company’s “good neighbor” tagline, it’s the subjective interpretation of “good neighbor” by the agent and the claims staff that play a large role in determining if the promise is kept…or not.Remember, neither messages nor taglines-implied nor literal-break promises. People break promises. Make sure your staff understands how their actions affect the fulfillment of your company’s promises.
  • Misunderstanding customer NVEs. As always, understanding the Needs, Values and Expectations (NVEs) of your prospects and customers is very important. In this case, however, values and expectations are paramount. A business is not built solely on the products and services that it sells to meet the tangible needs of customers. It is perhaps more important that the company demonstrates value (and values) and delivers on expectations with each and every action.

Successful businesses deliver on promises each and every day and have the loyal customers to prove it. Those who break promises regularly-intentional or not-may find themselves waging a constant battle for new customers. It’s easy to know which of these businesses you’d rather be, the more important question is which business you are now.

David Harkins is a serial entrepreneur, which is a more professional way of saying he is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up.
When not working for himself, he has had a fulfilling career in marketing, advising both large and small companies including several in the Fortune 500 and many of America’s largest nonprofit organizations. In his spare time, he consults, speaks, writes, hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order. Connect with him on social media below:

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Are you making promises you can’t keep?

by David Harkins time to read: 3 min
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