Under promise, over deliver

6 07 2011

It’s a basic business mantra that regularly isn’t followed: follow through on the promises you make to your customers, and don’t commit to doing something that you can’t do. Customers expect businesses – from the smallest one-person outfit to Fortune 500 organizations with vast resources – to do what the business says it will do. What businesses “do” takes the form of a documented promise; customer commitment or bill of rights; mission statement; slogan; or any other popular buzzword.

At its core, though, the commitment is the company’s day-to-day operation, whether that’s cutting and removing trees from one’s yard or moving freight around the world. Along the way of trying to be efficient and effective at this core activity, businesses start promising things to customers that aren’t measurable or controllable and can’t necessarily be replicated all the time. “Superior customer service” is a popular catch-phrase. Once the phrase is spoken or written, customers begin to expect that the people, web portal, social media outlets, product, and any other touch point will be nothing but an incredibly positive experience or at least nothing more than an innocuous event that leaves no particular impression.

Delivering on the promise – superior service – starts with trust. Trust that staffers can make their own decisions; trust that customers won’t abuse the promise; trust that the organization’s philosophy & operation fits with the promise. Trust is probably the most difficult step in delivering on the promise. It’s often witnessed by customers in the form of moving up the chain of command to have a problem resolved; trust in the employee doesn’t exist when a customer has to say, “let me talk to your supervisor.” When trust in employees does exist, the staff becomes empowered to make their own decisions and help customers more effectively.

When trust is established, business leaders must provide resources that support the promise. Resources can take the form of training & teaching or investment in systems that provide accurate, up-to-date information. Staff training is critical, particularly in situations where the staff has not been empowered to make their own decisions but now is expected to do so. Resource-wise, if the promise is “always in stock,” then the business must carry significant inventories or have ready access to be able to ship the product to the customer. When the promise is “fast & fresh,” food must be prepared quickly and to-order.

From trust & resources, flow product or service improvements. It may mean offering assembly services for furniture or lawn equipment, or it may mean training staff to handle multiple duties so any guest demand can be met at any time in a luxury hotel or resort. It is this retooling of the business’s product and service offerings that will likely take time and require a constant examination of resource needs.

When product or service is at a level that meets the marketing promise, when trust is established and the staff is trained, when resources are dedicated to ongoing improvement and refined, customer satisfaction will increase. As satisfaction increases, word of mouth (or virtual word of mouth through online reviews) increases and the business’s reputation for delivering a stellar experience becomes known.

Today, customers have more purchasing options than ever before. They also have more access than ever to information and user reviews. Business leaders know that customers will share their experiences with the community, particularly the bad but often the stellar, too. If you are one of those leaders, you’d better deliver on your promise.

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