Promises, promises Featured

5:45am EDT February 18, 2002
Though I didn't really know the whole story, I could almost reconstruct the likely scenario. Beleaguered by accusations of poor customer service and consistently failing to meet expectations, the director of marketing goes to the CEO with this great idea.

"Mr. CEO, I think you should write a letter to our customers telling them how committed this company is to customer service," she suggests. "We could call it something catchy like 'Customers First,' and have a list of the 12 ways in which we are committed to ensuring that customers have a positive experience when they use our service. You could publish the letter on our Web site and in our magazine, read by millions of our customers every month."

And I can imagine the response.

"That's a great idea," the CEO says. "Write the letter and I'll sign it."

And that's what they do. Without thinking through what the result will be when the customer continues to be treated as a nuisance instead of as the sole reason for the company's existence -- and without checking to see if anything the company is promising is even remotely reflective of reality -- they "market" this great new concept.

Then the inevitable happens. The customer has an encounter with the company that causes anguish, fear, frustration and anger. To make matters worse, the customer stumbles across the letter on the company's Web site.

This is where your parents come in. Didn't they teach you that important life lesson that you should always do what you say you're going to do? A promise is a promise, they'd say. Be dependable. Follow through.

These are basic tenets of marketing. Don't promise what you can't deliver. And if you know something is important to your customer, make sure you are delivering it before you advertise that you're doing so. Incalculable damage is done when your customer is doubly disappointed, once because you failed to live up to expectations and again when your management insists that you are committed to living up to them.

You, as owner or senior executive, need to be in touch with what's really happening in your organization. Good marketing doesn't mean developing the text for a "Customers First" campaign and publishing it on your Web site. It means being in true touch with your organization, seeing how it really works in the trenches and making sure that you and everyone who works for you is doing what you say you're doing.

It's not much more complicated than that. Andrea Fitting is CEO of Fitting Creative, a Pittsburgh-based agency specializing in strategic marketing and breakthrough creative. Reach her at (412) 434-6934.