Keep your promise. Keep your customer


The pursuit of excellent customer service has been a debate point for decades. Some would argue that it is the WOW factor – or the over-delivery of promised services, often interpreted as going ‘above and beyond’ customer expectations.

However, an alternative solution suggests that it may be as simple as consistently doing what we say we are going to do. Research has supported this, showing that customers prefer businesses that are easy to work with and deliver on their promises.

Consider Nike, whose brand promise is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”. Reading this, it’s tempting to think that it would be a hard thing to measure, especially because their brand promise is so much larger than simply providing athletic gear. But it is not hard to find evidence of how Nike is doing this successfully, like hiring Colin Kaepernick as a brand spokesperson. While this move was considered controversial, its success cannot be denied. The company’s stock hit record highs in the immediate aftermath. Their decision to support a movement that embraces equality has truly been inspirational to people around the world, not just athletes.

In this example, it is easy to see what the promise to customers is because the phrase states it explicitly. But there are other examples of promises that companies make which are left unspoken. These are known as implicit promises. One great example of an unspoken, or implicit, promise is the expectation that most customers have when they encounter a problem with a product or service. Even if the company doesn’t directly state that they promise to provide superior customer service in the event that a mistake is made, most customers expect it anyway. This is simply a standard expectation, which makes it an implied promise.

Many times, though, when customers try to address an issue with an organisation, they are disappointed. Call centres is an easy example, customers can suffer long wait times, and/or be transferred multiple times. This process is incredibly frustrating and represents a clear violation of the implicit (or unspoken) promise.

Customers have a wide range of expectations (or implicit promises) for different companies that can range from trusting that a product is safe, to feeling comfortable when out shopping. This means it is an important and ultimately very productive exercise for organisations to clearly identify what implicit promises they are making to their customers, and what their customers expect.

In addition to understanding the difference between explicit and implicit promises, its useful to look at the role of branding, which adds another layer of promises that companies must keep. It is less straight-forward though, usually because it is rooted in feelings or emotion. Eg. Subaru states: “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru” and Honda describes itself as “the power of dreams.” These are not concrete promises that can be kept, they appeal to our feelings.

Alternatively, Toyota’s tagline of “quality, safety, and innovation” or Air New Zealand’s promise of “liberating travelers from the ordinary”are concrete promises that can be verified by researching the performance of Toyota’s vehicles or flying on Air New Zealand. You can’t research whether or not love actually transforms your Subaru or whether your Honda powers dreams.

This doesn’t mean that Air New Zealand and Toyota aren’t targeting emotion in their brand-building efforts; they are simply appealing to different emotions. But this tactic does make it easier for them to live up to the explicit, or stated, promises they are making to their customers. Once that brand promise is determined it is easier to develop a plan to convey the promise to customers through marketing and advertising efforts.

Once a company understands the differences between their stated and unstated promises, they are in a much better position to identify what those promises are, which then, makes it possible for its staff to consistently deliver on these promises, or do what they say they are going to do.

As Shep Hyken states, “Customer service is the experience we deliver to the customer. It’s the promise we keep to the customer. It’s how we follow through for the customer. It’s how we make them feel when they do business with us”. When you keep your promises, you keep your customers.