"The Navigator" News Blog

How to Build a Brand Service Promise

Sometimes the hardest questions are the most common.  Here’s a scenario that is repeated every day in sales.  Skeptical Customer: “So, why should I buy from you? We’ve been buying from (company X) for years.”

Earnest Salesperson (smelling the sale): “But, we have great service!” Or, if Earnest Salesperson decides to put a little extra oomph behind it, “We have the best service in the business!” Earnest Salesperson confidently smiles at Skeptical Customer, knowing that at any moment Skeptical Customer is going to reach for his checkbook. Instead, Skeptical Customer yawns and says, “Yeah, but everybody says that. Why should I buy from you?” And another sale dies before its time, and that’s because salespeople don’t know how to build a Brand Service Promise.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is that way more often than salespeople would like to admit. Why do we do this to ourselves? Answer: because you – or your boss – don’t have a better idea. Want the truth? Everybody says they have the best service. When everybody says it, it’s meaningless. And yet there are businesses – lots of ’em – where service is the main differentiator between competitors. There are also buyers – again, lots of ’em – who make service the main criteria in their buying decision. Sales result when salespeople communicate “great service” to a buyer who wants to buy “great service.” Of course, to make that sale, your Brand Service Promise has to stand out from the white noise of your competitors promising “great service.” Building a Brand Service Promise that stands out from your competitors – and making it mean something – is a three step process.

To effectively build a Brand Service Promise, you must do three things: first, you must Define exactly what your great service means to the customer; you must Offer Proof of your specific service, and you must Have Consequences for failure to provide that service. Sound tough? It is – but it isn’t. Some of America’s best companies have been built on this simple philosophy.

First of all, Define your great service. Preferably, you’ll do that by offering something that your competitors don’t. Start out this way: get your key people together. Include salespeople, customer service people, department managers, and anyone else whose primary responsibility is dealing with the customer. Go around the room and ask each person to come up with one specific thing your company does to add value to its product or service offering. Then, next to each thing, write the advantage to the customers. Make this a no B.S. meeting – only list those things you really do consistently, not the things you only do on your best day when all the stars are aligned properly and the boss is in a good mood.

When you have all the ideas in the room, you have a nice feature-and-advantage list for the sales department. Now, on the board, go over each item and ask which competitors do the same thing. When two or more competitors do it, erase it. It’s good for the salespeople to know, but it’s not your “great service” offering. You should be able to come up with one or more things that make you unique, are specific, and have tangible advantages to the customer. (If not, get to work and figure out something you can do.) You have now defined your service offering.

Next, you must Offer Proof. A good way to do this is with a specific written service policy. A better way to do it is with written references from happy customers who have received quality service from you. Either way, salespeople should carry a “brag book” (which can be digital, or even on your phone) and be prepared to prove their “great service” promise.

Of course, in today’s world, your customer won’t settle for YOUR proof.  They are probably going to look up their own proof – which means that your Google reviews, for example, have to be strong.  If your Google review index is a 3.7, you’re not a provider of “great service.”  Get those reviews up!  Consider other sources of feedback, as well – Facebook reviews, LinkedIn recommendations, etc.  It all matters now.

Finally, you need to Have Consequences for not living up to your Brand Service Promise. The most common form of this is a money-back guarantee, but it doesn’t have to be the only consequence. Other forms of consequences for failure to provide service could include merchandise or merchandise certificates, some sort of gift to the customer (such as a catered lunch for their employees), or other “make good” gesture. The key here is that the consequences need to be part of your written service policy, and they should be presented to the customer as part of the service presentation, rather than decided upon after the fact.

Perhaps the best one used to be Domino’s Pizza. Now, I can’t think of anyone – including Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan – who would say that Domino’s is the best pizza you can buy. Monaghan’s concept was that, if you called Domino’s for a pizza, you’d have it in 30 minutes or less (thus Defining his “great service” proposition). Domino’s made that Brand Service Promise part of its advertising (Offering Proof with their written policy), and gave you the pizza free if it took longer than 30 minutes (the Consequence for failure). This simple Brand Service Promise grew Domino’s from a single college-town pizza joint to one of the largest fast food companies in America. Domino’s was eventually forced to drop this policy due to a couple of lawsuits resulting from overzealous delivery driving, but it’s still rare to get a Domino’s pizza in less than 30 minutes. Yes, I still order them every now and then when I want a flashback to college.

Domino’s service promise has been copied in one form or another by restaurants from coast to coast. One common version is where a restaurant usually known for dinner will institute a “timed lunch” offering, where lunch is guaranteed to be served within a certain time from ordering, or it’s free. Another version is the “quick oil change” outlet that guarantees a full oil change and fluid check within 20 minutes, or it’s free. Both service promises are targeted at busy people who don’t have time to linger over small tasks.

Let’s put the three-step process to work for a hypothetical business. Whenever I go new car shopping, I’ll always ask the salesperson, “Why should I buy here when there are several other dealers selling the same car?” The salesperson will enthusiastically reply that they have – you guessed it – “great service.” No sale. But what if the car dealer put some meat into the promise? A program could be started where the salesperson could honestly reply, “Because buying a car here gets you extra privileges in our service department. When a car that’s been purchased here is brought in for routine maintenance, we guarantee that the maintenance will be finished within X time, or it’s free, no matter what. With or without an appointment, we put you to the head of the line if you buy your car here. Here’s a copy of our service policy.” Now, there’s a service promise that means something.

Brand Service Promises don’t have to be elaborate. If your company gets a lot of phone calls for service or support, how about a promise that the phone will be answered by a real human being who is empowered to help? The cable TV company’s promise that “our person will be there between 8 A.M. and 6 P.M”. doesn’t mean much to me – but the air conditioning repairman’s Brand Service Promise that he’ll be there at 4 P.M “and if you don’t mind, allow me a half hour either way” does. Make it matter to your customers, and it’ll matter to you.

Of course, every business doesn’t necessarily have to have a Brand Service Promise. Businesses that differentiate from their competition on price (like Wal-Mart), by product (like Apple Computers), or by emotional appeal (like a sports or entertainment business) don’t usually provide Brand Service Promises – but if yours does, make sure to define it. Your salespeople and your customers will thank you.  And if I can help, let’s talk.