The Purpose of a Promise

“Promises are like crying babies in a theater, they should be carried out at once.” -Norman Vincent Peale

By BOB MIRMAN

How many promises have you made today?

It’s now 10:12AM and I have already made a bunch, including: Honey, I’ll clean the garage on Saturday; I’ll stop at Costco on the way home tonight.

Making promises, whether overt or inferred, is a part of our family experience. We make promises to set expectations for our spouse, our kids, our friends, from significant (“For better or worse…”) to the relatively insignificant (“Tee time at 11:15? I’ll be there.”)

Now add the promises we make to our business colleagues, clients, vendors, trades, homebuyers, and homeowners. Clearly, our days are full of promises.

Why do we make promises?

“It’s been said that people with good intentions make promises. People with good character keep them.”

A primary by-product of the promise-making process is “integrity”. Our personal integrity (and that of our company) is bolstered when we keep our promises, and, unsurprisingly, damaged when we fail to do so.

So, since there is a potential downside to every promise, why do we all continue making (often unrealistic) promises to our customers?

  1. We make promises help to structure responsibilities and eliminate confusion. A promise such as, “I’ll call that home buyer today,” clarifies who will be covering the task and when.
  2. We make promises so we can avoid confrontation with a customer. It’s sometimes difficult to say “no” to a homebuyer’s request for a totally unattainable custom feature, so the sales person all too often says, “I’ll call our VP to ask!” Big mistake…you know how the buyer interprets that response!
  3. Here’s the big one: We make promises in order to impress. “Sure, we’ll have the full 47 punch list of items completed by the time you move in on Thursday!” Ri-i-i-ght.
The #1 rule for making promises

My Mom, who turns 100 next week and is the funniest woman I’ve ever known, used to recite many of Mae West’s film-lines from her movies in the ‘30s. Mae West’s double-entendre lines are legendary, including “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” But Ms. West also once said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”

Forget about trying to impress your customers with promises. Impress them with your actions! Since your promises to customers set the bar for expectations, here is the #1 rule for making promises: Only make promises you know you can BEAT, not just meet.

Keeping promises creates a satisfied customer. However, when you beat your promises, this creates a delighted customer who is more willing to proactively bring their friends to your sales office.

A Tale of Two Builders
  • At the final walkthrough, Builder ‘A’ wants to make a good impression and promises to complete all the punch-list items within five days after move-in.
  • Builder ‘B’ is more realistic and promises to complete all items within 30 days.
  • Both builders complete their punch-list items in 20 days.
  • Question: Both builders performed equally, but which builder has delighted buyers?

Only make promises you know you can meet or BEAT with 95 percent certainty. So, when you feel your lips moving as you are making a promise, think: Can I BEAT this promise?

Bob Mirman is a psychologist and founder/ CEO of 34-year old Eliant, the building industry’s largest firm specializing in managing the customer experience. He may be reached at contact@eliant.com

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