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Monday, September 27, 2010

Who makes your promises?

Who is responsible for the promises your business makes to customers? Marketing? Sales? Operations? Customer Service? Is it a collaboration effort? And when promises are made, are they accounting for differences in importance of each attribute to overall success of the encounter?

Two recent examples:

This week, I opened a bank account online. The website proudly claimed, “Open an account in 5 minutes.” I love a challenge, and with fingers flying, I attempted to get the account opened under the promise time. As it turned out, I cruised through the experience, but was at 11 minutes, on the final screen, when I was prompted to call customer service. (The account open activity ended up taking just over three days) But I don’t engage financial services with speed as my primary objective, and so while I was critical of what was clearly an overexaggerated promise, the failure didn’t dissatisfy me.

In another recent encounter, failure happened on a much more important attribute promise. It’s recreational hockey season again, and my skates need new blades to prevent me from falling down even more than usual. I asked the arena’s pro shop how long to get them replaced, referencing that I thought a nearby hockey shop could do it if they didn’t have the parts. “Should take no more than 5 days” was the reply, and I gladly handed my skates over for the change. That was 15 days and 4 outings on borrowed skates ago. In this case, the delivery date was a critical aspect of the promise. If the answer had been, “A little over two weeks” I would have gone somewhere else.

In too many cases, the service encounter fails before it even begins, when the business opens its proverbial mouth and makes a commitment it can’t consistently keep. The effect is compounded when the promise is made on a critical aspect of the experience

Two lessons on setting appropriate expectations from these experiences:

Know what service attributes are important to customers before making promises on them as part of your positioning. If a customer doesn’t value an attribute, consider whether you have to make a promise on it at all.

Once you understand what attributes customer value, set appropriate expectations that can lead to satisfying service encounters, rather than stretching your promise to its absolute maximum. While it is possible for skates to be done in 5 days and an account could be opened in 5 minutes, your everyday promise shouldn’t reflect your performance on your best day.

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