Making promises is easy. Keeping them is your job

SmartCompany, July 18, 2017

Making promises is easy, but keeping them is hard. With best of intentions and a big dash of self-interest, the words are out almost before we connect with the reality of what it will take to deliver what we’ve said.

From a simple, “sure let’s grab a coffee at 10am on Wednesday”, to a more complicated “yes, we’ll be there on Tuesday to install your broadband”, it’s easy to commit to things without properly looking at what it will take to do them.

Before you know it Wednesday morning has rolled around, and things are not going well. The kids are more reluctant than usual to get up and go; snarls of traffic make you 15 minutes late; a complaint from an important customer confronts you when you step in the door; and before you know it, 10.30am has rolled around, and you’ve completely forgotten about coffee.

Sheepishly you call your colleague with profound apologies. And of course, while a bit miffed, they understand — after all, we’ve all been there. You’ll live to coffee another day.

So if the complexities of day-to-day life can derail a simple coffee catch up, imagine the myriad of things that can send an organisation careening off track.

A recent experience signing up for a new broadband service provides a handy illustration. The relationship started well enough. Unsure if the company covered our location, we called, and after checking to make sure, they told us “yes” it was.

The sign-up process and initial cable install went smoothly. The technician arrived during the given time window and completed the work — no mess, no fuss — then as he was leaving, he mentioned another technician would need to connect the line to the street.

Wait, rewind that.

The company had neglected to mention this small (huge) detail and our speedy new connectivity would have to wait. An expectation failure on our part — we had assumed, and they hadn’t said. But okay. They told us the day for the final step.

To learn more about why expectations abhor a vacuum click here.

Happily, we didn’t need to be home. Happily, because they didn’t come. We called. Tomorrow, they said. They didn’t come. We called. Tomorrow, they said again. They didn’t come. We got the number and called the company sub-contracted to do the work. They said: “Not our fault, we keep getting pulled off new installs to do maintenance”; it should be tomorrow. They didn’t come.

Behind the scenes, I’m sure there are many moving pieces and parts — that complexity I mentioned earlier. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of appointments to schedule. Managing sub-contractors to do the work. The seesaw balance of new accounts with existing customer needs. I get it, running a business is hard. On any given day stuff happens to send the best-laid plans out of control. But four days in a row of broken promises test my limits of understanding.

Because it’s the job. And I’m not just talking about the telco, which shall not be named. To all of us in businesses of any kind, whatever industry sector you’re in, getting the basic stuff right is the job.

Forget delighting me. Forget layers of wiz-bang customer service technology and requests to ‘complete this survey to give us your feedback’. Get the basics right for right now. Organisations are fond of talking about the relationship they want. Here’s a hint — start by doing the job. That’s the first step. And maybe a phone call if you can’t make it to my house today.

So make promises you can keep, and then keep them. Use the identity elements of purpose and values to shape them. Deliver them via experience. And a robust, resilient brand will result.

Oh, and as for our new broadband service, we’re still waiting. Maybe tomorrow — now there’s a promise they could keep.