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Customer Service Means Keeping Promises
by Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro

One benefit of being a professional speaker and trainer is that I have the opportunity to stay in some of the nicest hotels. This was the case on a recent visit to Florida where I spent the night at a beautiful resort complete with pools, golf course, and spa. With the usual in-room amenities, I rose to make coffee while preparing to speak at a business conference.

Digging out the coffee pot, I located the decaf but not the regular coffee. Looking around the cupboard and in the drawers, I finally called the front desk to explain my dilemma.

“We are out of coffee,” explained the desk clerk calmly.

“What do you mean, you are out of coffee?” I asked, not so calmly. “How can a five-star hotel be out of coffee?”

“Oh, I’m really sorry,” he explained. “Our shipment did not come in, and we have no regular coffee packets for the rooms.”

“Really?” I asked in disbelief. “I mean coffee is like towels or toilet paper. It is really a basic necessity.”

“Yes, I know. I’m really sorry,” said the desk clerk. “We will take steps to attend to this immediately.”

Within minutes there was a knock on the door and a waiter stood with a pot of coffee, cream, and fresh fruit. He assured me it was complementary for the inconvenience of not having coffee in the room and, again, apologized for the problem.

It was clear that the desk clerk had kept his promise to rectify the situation, but two other important promises were not kept.

Customer Service means keeping promises. Promises build trust, understanding and customer loyalty. Customers evaluate a company based on how well promises get delivered. There are really three types of promises that need to be considered for great customer service:

Personal Promises. These are the promises that an individual makes to a customer. When the desk clerk indicated that he would attend to the problem; that was a personal promise. When a customer service representative says that they will get back to you by the end of the day; that is a personal promise. Personal promises are from one person to another, yet the results reflect on the entire company. Customers watch these promises carefully and evaluate the follow through. They know that if you can’t trust a company’s representative, you can’t trust the company.

Companies committed to customer service train their staff carefully to make sure that they understand the importance of their personal promises. Empty assurances and unrealistic timelines only frustrate the customer and erode trust. Staff must be careful in their efforts to “put out the fire,” that they don’t add gasoline.

Organizational Promises. These are the promises that the organization makes to the customer. Expecting coffee in a five-star hotel is an organizational promise. When a hotel advertised that they are “five-star,” this indicates that they have passed the criteria to earn these stars. Customers expect a certain level of accommodations, services and extras that this classification implies. They certainly expect coffee.

Organizational promises can also include statements about service, product quality, pricing, etc. These promises may be a part of an organizations slogans or branding. When Midwest Airlines claims to be “The Best Care In The Air,” they can back up their claim with the latest market surveys. When Harley Davidson says, “Be part of something bigger,” they can back up their claim with information about bike rallies, events, clothing and the Harley culture.

Expected Promises. These are industry promises; what is expected from providers in a specific industry. This if what customers expect even if it is not spelled out. Fine hotels should have coffee. Period. The best ones also have fresh cream available in the room, instead of powered cement to stir in the coffee. I have learned to expect this after staying in hundreds of hotels.

Several years ago we bought a new van. We brought it home from the dealer with 175 miles on the odometer. The next morning it wouldn’t start. I called the dealer and said, “Is it supposed to go more than 175 miles?” He didn’t appreciate the humor. You expect a new car to run. Expected promises are the basic. You have to do them because everyone else in your industry is already doing them. Great companies do more than the expected promises; they do the extras to set their service apart from the competition.

What promises are you making to your customers? Remember the rule for great customer service, “Under Promise and Over Deliver.” Give your customers more than they expect and they will be loyal advocates for the company.

Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro may be contacted at

FREE E-mail newsletter, sign on at Barbara Bartlein, is The People Pro, and President of Great Lakes Consulting Group, LLC, which helps companies sell more goods and services by developing people. She can be reached at 888-747-9953, by e-mail at: or visit her website at



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