Keeping Your Promises?

Shoppers expect you to.

by Dennis L. Prince
- May 21, 2015

Starting a business is a lot like starting a courtship. The world is rosy, the possibilities are endless, and you're ready to promise the world to yourself and your customers. But when the honeymoon is over, can you be sure you'll stay on track to deliver everything you said you would?

Fulfilling a promise is the foundation of trust with customers. An unfulfilled promise makes that customer distrust you and your business

Customers love to be sweet talked, but they're suspicious of offers that seem too good to be true. Here's a new way to check up on your business promises and see if you're all you've pitched yourself to be, or if you're prone to empty pillow talk.

Promises matter

A promise is a commitment. In the business world, when you make a promise to a customer and they make a purchase based on that promise, they expect you to deliver.

If you don't, you communicate to your customer that you really don't value her and her patronage beyond a transaction. Fulfilling a promise is the foundation of trust with customers. An unfulfilled promise makes that customer distrust you and your business.

Start with a list

Elizabeth Barrett Browning once concisely and poetically offered, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

Following that opening, she proceeded to list how she would prove her passion, from that day to the day of her death and beyond. Essentially, she offered a list of actions she'd undertake to prove her commitment to the promise she made. And if you love your customers (and you do, don't you?), then a list is what you need, too.

Corporate jargon such as "mission plan," "value proposition" and "commitment to quality" has been used to dress up the simple notion of the business promise. And while there's nothing necessarily simple about keeping a promise, the simple fact is that we need to list those promises before we make them, then refer to that list daily to ensure we're upholding them.

At the outset, the best sort of business promise list is one that is relatively short and simple. To break it down into its simplest components, a promise is:

Your promises should be straight to the point and unambiguous

  • Clear and unmistakable: Your promises should be straight to the point and unambiguous. ("We'll ship your order within two business days, guaranteed" versus "Orders usually ship within one or two days.")
  • Actionable: A promise needs to include a verb that will clearly indicate what that promise will achieve.
  • Measurable: A good promise will have a measurable element (time for service, discount offered and so on) that can be objectively measured as a proof point that the promise is being fulfilled.

That list will help you, too

Your promises need to be more than fluffy statements like "We'll try harder than the other guys." Customers need assurance of what they can expect, when they can expect it and what will be done to ensure they get what they've been promised. And you need this level of assurance, too!

As you make your promise list, make sure you fully understand what you're about to promise, why you're promising it and how you'll fulfill the promise.

Keep your initial list small and manageable, and work through it to ensure it's clear and contains actionable and measurable statements. Then give the list to someone else to read. Let them question you to see if you're both clear about what's being promised and if they truly believe that you'll be able to deliver.

This can be a tough test to endure because it sometimes puts your business dreams in direct confrontation with reality. But don't take the assessment personally. Take it professionally as a way to make your business promises iron clad.

Customers understand that the unexpected can occur, and they're forgiving if you demonstrate fast action and reasonable recourse to their dissatisfaction

Can you survive a broken promise?

Along the way, as you're faithfully tending to your business, a promise might be broken. Maybe an item that was supposed to be in stock unexpectedly becomes unavailable, a delivery deadline is missed or a guaranteed discount is unwittingly disallowed. Surprises will occur that can leave you looking like you defaulted on your commitment. It happens, but you can recover gracefully by having a response plan ready.

Customers understand that the unexpected can occur, and they're often quite forgiving if you demonstrate fast action and reasonable recourse to their disappointment or dissatisfaction. Be ready to tell them you're sorry but also be prepared to show them you're sorry by offering suitable restitution, such as additional discounts and free upgrades.

We all encounter a broken promise from time to time, but provided it's not a habitual occurrence and you're ready to make amends, customers understand. Of course, when a promise is broken, it's a good idea to understand why it happened and if there's something you can do to prevent it from happening again.

Keep your promises to yourself, too

Always remember that you began your business adventure with a desire to explore, a passion to fulfill and a goal to be reached. Those were the promises you made to yourself, committing to pursue what inspires and moves you.

To that end, you need to remain vigilant that what you're doing in your business each day is satisfying those promises you made to yourself. And when you're sure that you're in clear pursuit of your goals and dreams, it becomes easier to fulfill the promises you've made to your customers, too.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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