Delivering Upon Your Promises

May 24th, 2016
Steven Howard

You Need To Deliver Upon The Promises Made To Customers

Vernon Hill, President and CEO of Commerce Bank, was quoted in one of Fast Company’s First Impression Newsletters as saying, “We have to keep delivering what we promise to customers.”

When I first read this, I thought “how utterly silly” that a CEO of a major bank is making this kind of a statement. Is it really necessary to go all the way back to the very premise of what customer-focused marketing should be: identifying and serving the needs of customers by delivering upon our promises?

Upon the initial reading, the comment seemed almost trite. Or pithy, at best.

Then I started to recall a handful of incidents that had happened to this customer — all within a single month:

  • The ticketing agent at one of my favorite airlines gave me wrong information about how I can use my frequent flier credits to upgrade on a flight the following week, resulting in one very unhappy customer at the airport a few days later when I tried to facilitate an upgrade.
  • My phone company changed my billing address for all my accounts when I had new phone lines installed in a new premise, when all I wanted was for only the new phone lines to go onto a new account at the new address.
  • The purchase of a new desktop computer from a world-famous computer company failed to arrive on the day specified, resulting in lost production, a highly distressed customer, and over 90 minutes wasted trying to get through the company’s so-called help line.
  • An order for a subscription to a major daily newspaper placed through the paper’s Internet web site was miscommunicated to the newsagent assigned to deliver the paper, resulting in an order for the weekend edition being delivered instead of the daily edition.

And thus it began to occur to me that perhaps it is time for many organizations — particularly the four above — to return to the very basics of marketing and to re-focus internal efforts and energy on delivering upon their promises to customers.

There seems to be way too much focus today on price promotions, discounts, and channel incentives and not enough emphasis on solving customer needs and delivering upon the promises made to customers.

The fact is, no matter how much you reduce your selling price, lower margins, or engage in other short-term promotional programs, the customer still expects you to deliver upon your product, service, and organizational promises.  This is just as true in B2B marketing, perhaps even more so, as in consumer marketing.

As Professor Craig Vogel of Carnegie Mellon University said in another Fast Company First Impression newsletter, “What people value and the way that they interact with a product goes beyond price.

The most fundamental way that customers interact with your organization, and your products and services, is through the promises made to them.

These promises set their expectations. When their expectations are not met, especially basic and reasonable expectations, then such interactions have a huge negative impact on their relationship with your organization.

After all, as in the illustrations above, there is nothing unreasonable for a customer to expect:

  • Factual information to be given.
  • The billing address from the telephone service provider to be correct.
  • Deliveries to be made on time and on the day specified.
  • An order entered via a website to be communicated clearly and error-free to the distribution channel.

When I was VP Marketing at Citibank in Singapore in the early 1990s, our retail bank service platform was based on the acronym CPT, which stood for Competence, Problem-Free, Timely.

At a minimum, today’s customers expect you to deliver on all three of these values: having competent, knowledgeable staff, deliver problem-free products and services, and ensure delivery of your services and products in a timely fashion.

When you make a promise to a customer, be sure that your delivery upon each and every promise is competent, problem-free, and timely.

Keep (or start) delivering upon your promises to customers.

All else is secondary.


Key Point: you need to deliver upon the promises you make to customers.

Taking Action: start tracking all promises made to customers and monitor the time-frame for when actual delivery of these promises takes place. How often is your organization meeting promises within the specified time commitment?  What steps are needed to improve this performance?

Where do frequent errors occur in your processes? What steps can be implemented to reduce or eliminate these errors?

If you outsource the physical delivery of your products, how do you monitor the performance of your service provider?

How long is the average wait time for customers calling into your call center?  Making an upset customer wait an inordinate amount of time merely turns them into angry (or angrier) customers. What can be done to reduce time customers spend on hold?


This post is partially excerpted from our book Powerful Marketing Memos, available at Amazon in paperback ($10.88) and Kindle ($3.88) formats.

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