Promises, promises, promises

Karl Palachuk

I’m a big believer that any business can be successful. You have to have a product or service that people want, of course. But that’s easy in the technology consulting business. After all, there are thousands of businesses near you that need your services. If you expand across state or provincial lines, there are millions of businesses that need what you sell. And if you are willing to cross national borders, then the world is yours for the taking.

PromisesIt all boils down to promises. If you deliver what you promise, then clients will keep coming back. But promises play a much larger role than that.

We make promises to clients and prospects, to employees, to vendors, and even to ourselves. Here are a few thoughts to consider about the promises you make and the promises you keep.

1. Promises matter

Whether you do it consciously or not, your company makes promises. Sometimes they’re formal, such as your service agreements. Sometimes they’re informal, like the way you describe an upcoming project to a client.

Many companies – too many companies – have no formal process for deciding what they promise. In other words, they just do whatever makes sense in the moment. Their business evolves without a plan. The most successful companies make promises very intentionally. They have a vision statement and a mission statement to guide them.

Those things are the beginning of the promises they make. They are the foundation for creating a business with intention. The next step is to agree on some values and principles that guide the business.

Whenever you think about great companies and what you expect from them, remember that your expectation came from somewhere. It came from the promises made or implied by that company. Similarly, when you think about companies that disappointed you or let you down, those are companies that broke their promises (whether made or implied).

2. Take control of outward-facing promises

Some promises are inward-facing, to yourself and your employees. But clients primarily care about your outward-facing promises. These include doing your job, doing it well, and doing it in a timely manner. As I mentioned above, promises can be actively made or they can be implied.

When you imply that you’ll do something, the client has a right to expect you’ll do it. And whether you mean them to or not, the client will also infer some promises from the way you run your business. Both of those are examples of unwritten promises. Unwritten promises are very dangerous because you and the client will have very different expectations.

It is always best to take charge of the client relationship and be very clear about what you are promising. Whether it’s service level response times or simply scheduled maintenance work, you need to educate your clients about what to expect and how to evaluate your service. Your service is – literally – the fulfillment of your promises.

3. Be careful how you use promises

It is always good to get feedback on how we’re doing. But be careful. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Under-promise and over-deliver.” That can be just as dangerous as over-promising and under-delivering.

If you under-promise (in other words, don’t promise much), you could actually lose some business. One of the trends in the last ten years has been to promise exceptional service. So if you say that you’ll provide adequate service, that’s not very appealing. Combine this with taking charge of the communication, I recommend that you define excellent service and then provide excellent service.

If you don’t define what you mean by excellent, you could have quite a backlash. I recently took my new-ish car for its first service at a new dealership. I thought that my wait to be greeted and acknowledged was quite long compared to the former dealership.

After my service was completed, I got an email that simply asked whether I had received exceptional service. I said no. Note: There was nothing wrong with the service. It was good and average and fine. The price was right and I was happy. But it was not exceptional. I would have been perfectly happy if they had never asked that question.

4. Hold others accountable for the promises they make

Turn-about’s fair play, right? If you take ownership of your promises, use them carefully, and deliver on them consistently, you should expect the same from others as well. In an IT business, there are basically three kinds of promises made to you.

  1. Clients promise to pay for service
  2. Employees promise to do a great job
  3. Vendors promise to deliver excellent goods and services

All the rules from above apply here as well. Don’t let people make promises to you and not fulfill those promises. When you can rely on others to fulfill their promises, you have the freedom to expand your business because you know you have people behind you to make it possible. Here’s what I mean:

  1. When clients keep their promises, you have recurring revenue. You don’t have to worry about paying your bills.
  2. When employees fulfill their promises, you can provide consistent service. Not only that, but you can provide and promise consistently good service.
  3. When vendors keep their promises, you know you can rely on their products and services to build your business. You make more money when you’re not constantly looking for new vendor partners.

How do you rate? What does the web of promises within your business look like? I think you’ll find that the more promises are made and kept, the better off your business will be.