Fulfilling promises is powerful marketing

Looking for a truly powerful way to differentiate your company from your pack of competitors? What if you simply fulfill your promises?

That may sound ridiculously simple, and frankly, it is. But several recent experiences with companies that depend upon top-notch service to draw repeat business have convinced me that far too many organizations view their own promises as empty marketing tactics. That leaves the door wide open for competitors who truly believe in delivering what they say they will.

As I write these words, I’m waiting for a phone call from a service provider’s dispatcher to give me a rough idea of when her technician will knock on my door. Until I get that call, I can’t go anywhere — and since I was told I could expect that call shortly after I contacted the firm nearly three hours ago, I’m starting to get a little antsy.

Even worse, I’ve used this company’s services loyally for the last two decades, contributing hundreds of dollars to their bottom line, yet they treated me as a complete stranger when I called.

The other day, I needed a key piece of information from a “customer service rep” at a professional service provider with whom I’ve been doing business for years. Two previous requests earlier in the week had failed to produce what I needed, so I called again about 2:00 p.m. “I will call you with what you need absolutely no later than 4:00 p.m. this afternoon,” he assured me. So why wasn’t I surprised when his reply arrived in the form of an email around 7:30 that evening — and that it didn’t include all the promised information? Will his boss even notice when I move my business to one of the firm’s competitors?

Add in a contractor whose call to schedule a project came three days after his promised deadline, and it’s been a particularly frustrating week.

I’m floored, because there’s never been a time when service businesses faced as much competition as they do today. And failing to fulfill your promises in the age of Yelp, Angie’s List, and other online rating services is nothing short of committing business suicide. Not only will you miss out on new customers who see bad reviews; you won’t get those all-important referrals from your current customers.

If I seem cranky, I’m not alone. I’ve talked to a lot of folks who are encountering similar situations, even from companies with which they’ve been doing business for years. Those companies make all sorts of promises and don’t seem to think twice about breaking them. You want your customers to trust you, but few things erode that trust more quickly than failing to do what you said you would.

Before I started my business, I paid close attention to the things that frustrated my employers’ clients. So when I was ready to hang out my shingle, I made it clear that my billing would always match my estimates (unless there was a project change, which would generate a revised estimate) and that I would never miss a client’s deadlines. To me, those are promises that shouldn’t even need to be voiced, but the fact is that they’ve gained me several nice pieces of business. One of those clients told me she worked with me instead of my competitors because “you do what you say you’re going to do, you charge me what you say you will, and you deliver it when you promise to.” I’m proud of that, but shouldn’t it be the norm instead of something extraordinary?

So it seems to me that if you want your business to become incredibly successful in today’s environment, you don’t need to worry about having the best product, the most competitive price, or the most compelling marketing program. All you need to do is live up to what you tell your customers that you’re going to do. To me, that’s more than a little sad, but I’m afraid it’s become the reality of our marketplace.