April 24/May 1, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 23
By Lisbeth Calandrino
Employees make promises to customers they can’t keep. When they do this it kills their relationship with the customer.
I recently read a story about a man who refused to break a promise to his wife to buy a bigger house within 10 years. When the time was up, he just didn’t have the money. To avoid disappointing her, he put his business in a precarious position to obtain the needed financing. After all, a promise is a promise.
Life happens, we can’t always do what we intend. We promise our children that when they’re ready to go to college we’ll be there to pay the fare. But sometimes we can’t follow through. Maybe we wouldn’t have made the promise, if we had thought it out.
Sounds a bit like a plot to a crime movie, doesn’t it? (“I just had to steal the money to buy the car I promised.”)
Instead of the promise being just a promise, it often reflects the relationship. You can just hear someone in the background wailing, “But you promised. Why can’t you?”
Do you remember how you felt when you were a child? When I was a kid, my mom promised to take me to New York City to visit my cousins. Unfortunately, the morning we were supposed to leave I woke up covered with the measles rash. I cried and screamed, “You promised we could go.” Mom said it didn’t matter what she promised, the measles was a deal breaker.
No matter what she said, I couldn’t understand why the measles had anything to do with why we weren’t going. I believed a promise is a promise, which meant promises were not to be broken.
In reality, breaking a promise can damage our integrity and ultimately determines whether people will continue to trust us. Customer service is about keeping your word.
Here are five ways to stop breaking promises.
Stop making promises. Simply put, just learn to say no. We often promise because we’re worrying about what others will think of us. It seemed like a good idea when the promise was made, but now we’re over extended and can’t keep all of the promises we’ve made. Sometimes you have to say no; it’s better than promising what you can’t deliver.
Don’t agree to everything. Be very clear to what you’ve agreed to and how the promise will be kept. It’s likely your customer will only hear the part about how you’re going to fix the problem. When it comes to the conditions, it’s doubtful they will listen.
Put it in writing. When dealing with an unhappy customer, are you writing down what you intend to do and ask the customer to sign it?
If things aren’t going to work out, call early. When we have to deliver bad news, we often wait until the last minute. Unfortunately, this is when it’s the most painful for everyone involved. It’s just as hard to deliver bad news as it is to listen to it. Get bad news out of the way.
The best thing to do is turn our promises into goals. Goals are promises with accountability. A promise can make a goal even stronger, but without accountability it’s not likely to happen. If you can’t figure out how to keep your promises you will be in big trouble with yourself and the customer. Turning promises into goals will help you find the way to make them happen. Once you turn your promises into goals, you can define the steps to reach your destination. This will make it clearer for you and the customer.