Making sure you keep your promises to customers

From a customer point of view, a company breaking a promise to them instantly destroys trust and faith and it can take a long time to rebuild the relationship.

And it happens in many businesses. The key reasons are either that the business does not understand what promises the customer thinks they have made or that they have relied on third-party providers to fulfil part of the promise and either have not set clear service standards or just have not monitored that the third party performs to the required standard.

To avoid getting this type of complaint, you need to do 2 things:

First, understand which promises customers are likely to think you make.

This needs a review of any customer-facing material such as brochures, product information, website, social media sites as well as any staff scripts you use. When you review the material, you need to think as a customer would.

That means assuming a lower level of knowledge than you currently have as the business owner. It is advisable to have someone who has little knowledge of the business or product to review the material, as well as yourself. They need to read the material, asking themselves “Is this a promise?” and “What does this mean to me?”.

You also need to be aware that there are two types of promise – explicit and implicit. An example of an explicit promise is “Our store is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm apart from Bank Holidays”. Explicit promises are easy to spot as they give clear, factual information. In this example, a customer would expect to be able to visit your store anytime between 9am and 5pm, find it open and be able to buy from you. What about lunchtime though? If you are a sole trader do you close for an hour for lunch? What would a customer think if they found the store closed when they visited?

Implicit promises are much more difficult. These are where what you have said causes the customer to think you have made a promise when perhaps you did not intend to.

For example, you may describe a product as “easy to use” or simple”. You may talk about quality. What do you mean by that? What would your customers think you mean? You may think that a product is easy to use because it only takes 10 minutes to set up and start to use. You may think that having a detailed instruction booklet makes it easy.

But, would a customer think that? Would they expect to be able to use the product straight out of the box without spending any time setting it up? Would they expect any instructions to be shown on the product itself without having to refer to a booklet?

Once you have found all the explicit and implicit promises you have made, review what actually happens to make sure you live up to the customer expectations you set. Where that involves third parties (such as delivery services etc), try to have clear service standards so they, and you, know what is expected. Keep those standards in mind when you review the promises you make. If you are dealing with a large third-party supplier, it is very unlikely that they will agree to a set of service standards with you, but they should already have a set of standards that they use for all their customers. If they do not, look for another supplier!

Where you cannot negotiate with a third party supplier, make sure you know what their service standards are and that the promises you make to your customers are in line with them.

And finally, sometimes we all break promises. Customers understand that, but they do expect companies to acknowledge that a promise has been broken. They expect companies to apologise that they have let them down. They expect companies to understand the impact that the broken promise has had on the customer. And they expect the company to work to put it right!

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