The little white marketing lie that’s hurting your business

Little white lies are falsities we tell people (and sometimes tell ourselves) that we believe to be benign, harmless. But there are little white marketing lies we tell all the time that may be hurting our businesses.

Little White Marketing Lie #1:
“We provide extraordinary (exceptional, excellent, etc.) customer service.”

It’s a lie when you say it, it’s a lie when your competitor says it. Why? Because of exactly that: everyone says it. When I ask a business owner about the customer experience, it’s usually the first thing that they say. Obviously, it can’t be true of every business, and if it is true of most businesses, then it’s still not true. Because by definition, in order to be extraordinary requires something to be unusual, remarkable or surprising and outside of the established order. By definition, if everyone is “exceptional,” then no one is.

The real question is, what about your customer service is surprising or remarkable – so extraordinary – if you will – that clients walk out the door and are compelled to tell other people about it? If you can’t pinpoint how the customer service your business provides to clients, day in and day out, is truly outside of what they expect, then it’s probably not exceptional.

I would argue that most of what occurs in the vast majority of businesses merely falls within customer expectations. They expect to be treated like guests. They expect to receive a great service or buy a product that does what was promised. They expect for you and your employees to be cheerful and helpful. They expect you to be knowledgeable about your work, your products, new techniques and trends.

So even if you do all these things, you’re doing no more than meeting your client’s basic expectations. There is nothing exceptional about simply meeting expectations.

What’s more, even when it comes to meeting customer expectations, many business owners are lying to themselves. Take the results of a 2011 Customer Satisfaction Barometer, conducted by American Express:

According to the study, 70% of Americans said they would be willing to spend almost 15% more with businesses they believed (really) provided excellent customer service.

With such an indicator, you would think that businesses would make customer service a top priority; but in the same survey, 60% of respondents said they don’t believe businesses are making customer service a high priority.

In fact, 26% said they think businesses are actually paying less attention to service. Only 29% of US consumers said that recent shopping experiences exceeded their expectations.

Only 24% of US consumers believe that you value their business and will go the extra mile to keep it.

48% of those who said they would not pay more for good service said it’s because they expect good service, every time. (And why shouldn’t they?)

Why is there a disconnect between what business owners believe to be true about their businesses and what their customers are saying? It seems to be in interpretation. Most business owners who claim to be providing extra-ordinary customer service are really just meeting client’s basic expectations. They believe they provide an extraordinary experience, but only about one fourth of their customers agree. Guess what? That’s why customers aren’t telling their friends and family about your business, and that is why your books are not full and your retail shelves are.

Customer service is not contained in the actions of a person taking or fulfilling an order, receiving a return or complaint, performing a service or selling a product. Customer service isn’t an action, it’s a process—an intentionally designed system—meant to enhance the customer’s experience and which influences whether a customer feels satisfied or dissatisfied by a product or service.

It’s not just about making the customer experience “better.” It’s about making it greater in value, bigger and/or more sophisticated – more than that of the competition and more than the customer expects – so that it stands out to the customer as inherently and uniquely extra-ordinary. To do that, you have to truly understand your customers—you have to go beyond guessing what they might want and find out what they really do want. And you must train, educate and empower employees to respond to requests, complaints, unique situations and individual customer’s needs and desires. And most importantly, you have to build the unexpected into client experiences. Your customer’s experience must in some way be outside of the normal, expected order of things.

If you’re stuck here, scratching your head about how to do this, maybe it’s a good thing. If it were easy and obvious, everyone would be doing it – and then you’d really be behind! But the fact is, few businesses are serving their customers in an exceptional way, so the field is wide open for you. Do market research. Survey and solicit feedback from your customers. Form a focus group. Do secret shopping. Brainstorm with your employees. Analyze each customer touch point from a purely customer-centric point of view.

If you wonder why people don’t always agree with the claim you make that your business provides “exceptional customer service” or why the customer experience at your business is not helping you gain and retain clients, it’s because what you have in place is not actually enough to influence the customer to feel exceptionally satisfied!

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Elizabeth Kraus –
365 Days of Marketing is available on in book and digital formats.

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  1. […] your customer’s expectations.  Many business owners readily assert that their business delivers exceptional customer service (or extraordinary customer service) when in fact, they are doing no more than meeting customer’s […]

  2. […] your customer’s expectations.  Many business owners readily assert that their business delivers exceptional customer service (or extraordinary customer service) when in fact, they are doing no more than meeting customer’s […]

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