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Think Tank: Promises, promises!!

Think Tank: Promises, promises!!

"Over promise and under-deliver" is is just one of many myths about promises. Here's how to make promises you can keep.

Figure 1 – Six ways promises are broken.

Figure 1 – Six ways promises are broken.

The beginning of a new year is a time for new beginnings. We all make new resolutions, such as regular exercise and giving up smoking. Over time, one finds that these promises just fade away. Politicians too make promises at the beginning of their new terms and the results are often the same: many broken promises.

Businesses are no different. Marketing makes promises and commitments, such as to deliver goods on time or fix a customer problem. Customers value businesses that deliver what they promise. Customers trust increases.

Confidence is eroded when businesses are not as seen keeping promises. IT is no different. Without customers' basic trust that you will deliver what you promise, nothing else you do matters.

If keeping promises is important, why is it so hard to keep promises?

I have been reading a book called Reliability Rules by Don E Schultz and Reg F Price. It describes the challenges of Promises Management and how organisations can manage their promises to improve customer satisfaction and build brand. I believe these techniques are very valuable for IT groups.

Common myths about promising

There are many myths about promising. People like (positive) surprises! Under-promise and over-deliver! According to Price and Schultz, these are just that, myths.

Customers value consistency over surprise. They want their realistic expectations to be met time and again. If you always deliver early (surprise) customers may suspect you are overcharging or it may change their expectations, leading them to assume that you will always be early and thus defeating the purpose of under-promising in the first place. Over time. continuing to over-deliver can increase costs.

Fundamentals of reliability

There are three principles behind the reliability philosophy. These are Promise alignment, Promise clarity and the Moment of truth.

1. Promise Alignment – Two drivers must be aligned. a) How well promises are made? b) How well they are kept? The challenge is that a lot of attention is given to delivering on the promises rather than on how well they are made in the first place.

2. Promise Clarity – Promises must be clear both to the people who are carrying them out as well as to the receiver or the customer. Promise making is poorly managed in most businesses. As a result employees shy away from making explicit commitments or try to distance them from the promise. (E.g. Rather than saying a problem will be fixed in three days, a call centre says, "I will notify the Technical support today." This is not a clear promise to the customer).

3. Moment of Truth – The moment of truth for the promise is when the delivery (or action) is made. At this time the customer evaluates what he has received, comparing what he thought he was getting with what was actually delivered. When there is lack of clarity about what was promised, it is difficult to confirm that the delivery meets the promise. Any resetting of expectations must happen prior to delivery, otherwise disappointment is likely to result.

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