Promises to Keep

When you say you are going to do something … do it.

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In the past few months I’ve had two experiences where a business put something in print, and then failed to honor what they wrote. The first incident was minor. I ordered a sandwich at a fast-food restaurant where a prominent sign indicated its price was $5. When I went to pay for the $5 item, I was asked to fork over $5.85. When I questioned the amount, the counter person explained the item was $5.50, plus tax. I pointed out that the sign clearly said the item was $5, to which she replied, “The sign is wrong.” Huh?

The second incident was more significant. In the middle of a happy evening at home a family member came charging up the stairs yelling about water in the basement and possessions being ruined. After determining the source of the problem was somewhere in the household plumbing, my husband reached for the phone book and called not one, but two plumbers whose ads claimed emergency 24-hour service.

Neither answered the emergency service phone line, nor had a live answering service. He left frantic voicemails and both companies returned the call in the morning … 10 hours later. We spent a sleepless night periodically checking to see if the water was rising. Thankfully, it was not, but what if it was?



There are many ways you can stand out from your competition, but just saying you’ll do something — like have a low price or respond to calls 24 hours a day — isn’t enough. You’ve got to practice what you preach.

This should be a given in business, but it seems companies need frequent reminding that in order to gain and keep customers, they have to deliver what is promised, for the price promised, in the time promised.

That’s not demanding too much. A company is not required to be the biggest, best or cheapest … unless they say that they are. A reputable business does what it promises. That’s it.

When a business does not deliver on promises, those responsible waste a lot of time and effort making excuses. But being held up on one jobsite is not the fault of the customer waiting at a second jobsite two hours after the promised arrival time, and excuses are not what they want delivered.



By consistently not delivering on promises, businesses train customers to expect disappointment. That means customers bounce around from company to company looking for whoever is going to disappoint them the least, or in a different way than the last company. If you surprise customers by keeping promises, their bouncing days could be over.

And if you break promises? Studies claim as many as 9 of 10 consumers will tell at least one other person about a bad experience. The Internet allows negative comments to have an even greater impact, because up to 25 percent of customers having a bad experience will post a negative comment and the possible number of viewers is endless. This is not the kind of publicity you want.



Don’t make promises willy-nilly or make the same promises as the competition just to keep up. Before you make a promise, carefully deliberate over whether or not you can reasonably expect to keep it every time. By making promises, you build customer expectation, so make the right promises. Make sure your promises resonate with the customer you are trying to attract, and remember that making empty promises is a waste of time and ultimately unprofitable.

A good promise is:

• Something customers you are trying to reach really care about.

• Something that sets your business apart from the competition.

• Something you can expect customers to believe you will live up to.

• Something you and your employees can deliver on consistently.

• Something you have the tools to fulfill. For example, if you promise emergency service, you need a way to take calls 24/7.

Vague promises can get you in trouble. Being specific makes promises more meaningful. Don’t promise a customer you’ll arrive sometime between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Tuesday. That may be easier to keep, but not feel like much of a win to the customer. By narrowing down a promised time as much as possible and calling if you are going to be early or late, you earn the respect and understanding of the customer.

Make sure everyone in the company knows specifically what promises have been made and stress that these promises are to be kept. Outline for employees how particular promises are to be kept.



If you make a mistake when making a promise — like the fast-food place did in my opening story — honor it anyway. If you advertise something at a specific price only to discover you’ve underpriced it, it’s OK to tell the customer you made a mistake, but don’t try to get out of honoring the advertised price. Fix the sign, ad, billboard or whatever medium you used to announce the price as quickly as possible to minimize future damage.

As for the customer you are giving the promised price to, take the long view. The small loss in profit could be overcome by a long-term relationship with this customer. Hopefully they will spread the word that you are a businessperson who keeps promises. That goodwill should go far in improving your reputation in the community and ultimately building your business.


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