Have you ever gone to a store or an event (like a seminar) where something was promised and then the store or the presenter didn’t deliver on that promise. If so, how did you feel? If you’re like most people, you felt worse than you would have if you didn’t have that expectation in the first place.
For example, this past Sunday, my wife, Jacquie, and I visited a new church. On the church’s website and during their announcement time, they promoted the idea (i.e. they made a brand promise) that they were all about community and connection. There was only one problem … no one greeted us on the way in or the way out. They even told us to take our guest card to the welcome booth for a free gift after the service and guess what, no one was there either.
So even though they did a lot of things right, the fact that they didn’t deliver on their “brand promise” cast a negative shadow over the entire experience which caused us to think on the way out, “Where would you like to go next week?”
That’s the dark side of a brand promise that no one likes to talk about. Everyone likes to talk about making brand promises (“Separate yourself out from the herd. Tell your prospects why they should choose you.”) but rarely do they ever mention the dark side. Once you declare something to be unique or different, you’ve just raised your prospect’s expectations. And once those expectations are raised, you better deliver them or else your prospects will leave disappointed. Even worse, once someone (in this case, a prospect) has formed a perception, it’s virtually impossible to change it.
If you don’t believe me, think of a restaurant someone you know highly recommended to you that you went to and had a bad experience. How many times have you gone back? Probably none. Even though it’s your friend’s favorite, your perception is different and as a prospect, you have no motivation to change that perception. After all, there are plenty of other restaurants out there (just as there are plenty of businesses that offer what you offer).
So what should you do? Well, here are a few thoughts to get you started.
I. Be Careful About What You Promise
When you go to a dentist and he/she promises, “Pain free dentistry,” what’s your expectation? That you won’t feel any pain. So, if you go there and you feel some pain, you’ll feel worse than if they didn’t promise that.
If you go to a restaurant and they promise, “The world’s best pizza” or “Voted #1 Pizza in XYZ city by ABC Magazine,” what’s your expectation? If it’s not the best you’ve ever tasted, how will you feel?
If you order something online and they promise the lowest price online so you order it and then you find a lower price the next day, how to you feel?
The problem with brand promises (not that you shouldn’t make them) is that they set expectations. And once expectations are set, you have only three options. You can exceed them, meet them or not meet them (Note: only one of those is a positive outcome).
As Ken Blanchard made us all aware in his classic book, Raving Fans, when you simply meet someone’s expectations, they’re a “revolt waiting to happen.” Meeting expectations isn’t enough to gain a fan. If you promise to be onsite within two hours of a call and you’re onsite within two hours, you’ve just done what you’ve said. If, however, you’re there within 15 minutes, then you’ve created a WOW.
In other words, when you’re making a brand promise to stand out from the crowd, you have to be careful that you’re not setting you and your business up for failure by setting your prospects’ expectations too high. Better to under promise and over deliver than to over promise and under deliver.
II. Make Sure Everyone is Clear on What You’re Promising
If you want to do something fun this week, ask all of your employees and outsourcers (for ex. if you use a call center), what they think your brand promise is. Maybe your business is the exception, but I’d be shocked if there was any commonality. I’ve done this exercise tons of times and I’ve never seen any company where everyone’s response was the same.
As business owners and executives, we like to think we’re clear. We like to think that everyone knows what we know and thinks like we think, but they don’t. In this case, while we like to think that everyone knows what our brand promise is (or our competitive advantages or differentiators etc.), the reality is that most don’t.
And why does this exist? Because most of us like to think that once we’ve said something, we can move on to the next thing. But what all great leaders (and parents) know is that the key to success is repetition. You have to keep saying the same thing over and over and over again. And not just for a week or a month, but month after month and year after year.
So what is your brand promise? What are your competitive advantages? What are your differentiators? What are you saying to your prospects in order to convince them that you’re the obvious choice in your market space for them to find what they’re looking for?
Once you’re clear on that, make sure you engage in a LONG-TERM campaign to ensure that everyone on your team knows that inside out.
III. Set the Expectation for 100% Compliance 100% of the Time
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Top Chef, but during most seasons, one of the chefs whom you think should make it to the finale, gets cut early in the season, long before they should have been cut—especially when “weaker” chefs still get to compete. It’s totally infuriating if you’re a fan of the show.
Yet, every time it happens, Tom Colicchio (the judge who’s actually one of the nation’s top chefs) has to remind viewers that in the restaurant business, you’re only as good as your last plate. It doesn’t matter how good you may be, to the person who ordered a dish, they don’t care how many awards you may have won or what your skill set is, they only care about that one plate that is in front of them that night.
When I work with churches I always say, “You have to set the bar for 52 great Sundays. You can’t be happy with 30 or 39 or 44 great Sundays. Why? Because to every newcomer, that one Sunday is their only point of reference.”
If I’m working with a business and we’re discussing their customer service, I’ll remind them, “Everyone has to deliver exceptional service all the time. You can’t say, ‘Well, if you call back next time and get Angie you’ll get great service (because they called and Frank picked up the phone and Frank was, well, Frank). That doesn’t cut it. Nor can you say, ‘We don’t normally lose someone’s paperwork.’ That doesn’t cut it either. Everyone has to deliver exceptional service all the time.”
Even though mistakes do happen, you have to set the bar for perfection. Why? Because people perform to the level of expectation. For example, when I’m training speakers, I’ll often say, “Some speakers will say to you, ‘No one can hit a home run every time. Sometimes you’ll hit a single. Sometimes a double. Sometimes a triple. And every now and then a home run. To them I say, ‘Are you kidding me? Every time you get up you better be swinging for the fences. Why? Because if you’re swinging for a home run and you happen to fall short, you’ll at least end up with a triple. But if you’re okay with hitting a single and you end up falling short, you end up being thrown out at first base.”
It’s all about your expectation. So, when it comes to your brand promise, what’s your expectation? Are you shooting for a home every time? Or are you okay with a percentage less than 100% (maybe 90%, or 80%, or 70%, or 60%, or 50%)?
IV. Build Your Systems for 100% Compliance
Whether you’re a systems person or not, you have to admit that you and your business have a higher probability of hitting 100% compliance (i.e. greater consistency) if you’re trusting in a system more than you do if you’re trusting in human nature. We’ve all paid that dumb tax before!
So, my encouragement to you would be that you ask yourself and your team, “If we were to ensure that we delivered our brand promise 100% of the time, what kinds of systems would we need to put in place to make that kind of commitment?”
For example, when Rackspace made a commitment to their customers that they would speak to a real person when they called their support desk, they also put in a notification system where a red light goes off in the call center when a customer has reached their third ring (which means that someone in the call center better pick the call up before it hits the fourth ring).
They also had to hire the right people, as well as the right amount of people. They had to train their support staff to diagnose problems quickly in order that they could handle more calls, as well as more difficult calls so level one support could handle 95% of all customer issues.They had to reallocate resources, etc.
In other words, delivering on a brand promise isn’t a simple one step solves all problems issue. Nor is it something that you can simply hope will work itself out. It’s a complicated all systems involved kind of issue where you have to ensure that the systems themselves will deliver your brand promise 100% of the time. Trusting human nature is simply a bad operational choice.
So, as you look at your brand promise, are you delivering it 100% of the time? If not, what’s your next step? Remember, you and your company only have one shot with a prospect. And to that prospect, you’re only as good as your last “performance.” They don’t care about what you normally do. They only care about the one experience they’re currently having with you. So make sure you and your people deliver your brand promise 100% of the time.
To your accelerated success!