Why It’s No Longer Optional to Exceed Expectations

In Tommy Boy, an old Chris Farley flick about the bumbling son of an auto-parts distributor, there’s a running joke about the diminished value of an old-fashioned “satisfaction guarantee.” The joke — which is too vulgar to reprint here — centers around the inability of Farley’s character to remember a simple turn of phrase that his dad once used to close deals. Hilarity ensues. Its message, though, is clear: It’s not enough to make promises like “Your satisfaction is guaranteed” or “We aim to exceed your expectations.” You need to walk the walk.

Beyond Guarantees: Trust and Authority

It might be easier than ever for prospective customers to find your company online, but it’s also easier for them to find your direct competitors. A recent HubSpot survey found that more than 60 percent of businesses actively use inbound marketing to attract leads. Meanwhile, inbound marketing budgets at surveyed firms posted year-over-year increases of more than 50 percent for the third time in as many years.

With so much information at their fingertips, it’s much easier for prospects to evaluate your company’s content and form conclusions about its suitability for their needs. You’re no longer just competing against static print or salesy television ads. Your competitors are running complex, dynamic inbound marketing operations that continually publish new, enticing content that generates leads and boosts conversions.

We’ve talked about this before: The best way to create inbound leads is to curate a portfolio of engaging content that positions your brand as an industry authority. Even if there are six other companies that do exactly what yours does, your outfit will get the longest look — literally, if your website’s time-on-site metrics have anything to say about it — from prospects.

Deliver, Deliver, Deliver

If constructing an air of competence around your business is important, seizing and building on the opportunities that this creates is key. This involves more than just setting up and maintaining an engaging CRM platform. You need to cultivate old-fashioned business relationships — the kind that Chris Farley’s character couldn’t quite manage — with an information-age twist.

This goes well beyond content marketing. From the senior partner in the corner office to the gal who maintains the landscaping out front, every member of your team is a member of your salesforce. Customers have long memories: Just as they constantly make judgments about your portfolio of online content, they relentlessly scrutinize the words and deeds of the employees they interact with. If your team isn’t exceeding their expectations with , ahead-of-schedule shipments or personal responses to complaints, it’s all too easy for them to find a team that will.

Getting It Right

Truly customer-centric companies don’t bribe their prospects or hang on their every word. Instead, they identify aspects of service that are absolutely critical to get right.

If UPS always met your delivery timetables and kept your logistics costs below budget, you’d probably be satisfied with its service. If your delivery guy was consistently rude and unhelpful, though, wouldn’t you at least consider switching to just-as-reliable FedEx? When the only difference between similar firms is the quality of service at customer contact points, it’s easy to identify the winner.

Regardless of whether they make a purchase, online shoe retailer Zappos famously allows its customer-service representatives to chat with clients for as long as necessary. We should point out that it also allows free, no-questions-asked returns on most products.

Even huge companies like Amazon — whose chief executive, Jeff Bezos, has been known to personally respond to complaints from customers and partners — understand the value of superior customer service. If a firm with hundreds of thousands of employees and a truly global footprint can take the time to address and resolve problems as they occur, your more modestly sized firm must be able to do the same.

A Total Approach

Of course, you can’t neglect the non-customer-contact aspects of your business. When we say that every employee does double-duty in sales, we mean it: Your workers are 24/7 ambassadors for your brand. When your lead engineer talks about his job with other dads at the soccer game, it’s crucial that he discusses your company’s innovative products, not its stifling culture. When your stockroom supervisor exceeds quarterly quotas for three years running, it might be time to recognize and reward his contribution appropriately. If not, he might decide there’s someone else who will.

Customer-centric companies use cutting-edge inbound marketing techniques and focus relentlessly on improving their branding, visibility and authority, but they also recognize that there’s more to marketing than content and pixels. If it was ever possible to rest on your laurels, it’s certainly not anymore.