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In mid-2004, I won a free 1000-CD pressing as a prize in a raffle. I was thrilled; I didn’t yet have a product, but the prize would make it that much easier to create one. The company added me to their mailing list, occasionally sending emails to persuade me to buy CD duplication.

Finally, late last year, it was time! I eagerly contacted the man who had sent the emails … and he said my prize expired. Duplication would cost money going forward. The tag line in his email: “We create relationships.”

Wow. Talk about a disconnect between words and actions. Relationships are built on trust, fulfilled expectations, shared commitments, and mutual support. If you give a promotional prize, hoping to attract a customer, don’t kill the trust on day one by reneging on the prize. Even if you include an expiration date (though I didn’t remember one), enforcing it starts the relationship with a refusal. That’s hardly a great way to create relationships. In this case, I’ve replied courteously, and politely hinted that this treatment has me disinclined to do business. He hasn’t taken the hint.

When you make a promise, follow through. If you don’t, you’ll undermine trust and damage the relationship. This is true for explicit promises and also true for implied promises. If someone thinks you’ve agreed, the relationship will depend on your fulfilling the agreement[1].

How many of these lines have you heard, or maybe even used yourself?

  • We promised you a promotion, but circumstances have changed. Next year. Promise.
  • We’ll never have layoffs. Ever.
  • You’ll have the report in your hands by Thursday.
  • I’ll come see your play/ballgame/art opening tomorrow evening.
  • We care about you as a customer. (Please hold.)

If you break a promise, it really doesn’t matter why. Yeah, maybe it wasn’t under your control. Or maybe you had other priorities. But why should the other person care? When you say things like this, it’s important that you realize the listener thinks you’re being sincere. If you don’t follow through, all they know is that you’re undependable. So if there’s doubt, say so. “I don’t know if I can have the report in your hands by Thursday, but I’ll give it my best shot.” You just might be surprised when they reply, “Oh, that’s OK. I don’t need it until next week, anyway.”

For the next week, practice being honest when you make promises. Be honest with your co-workers, your customers, your family, and your friends. Be honest with yourself. Only promise what you’re sure you’ll deliver. Tell the truth. Have your company do the same. Then and only then, will you be able to say:

We create relationships.

[1] Like every rule, this one has its exceptions. When your spouse asks you to tell the truth about how good their new outfit looks, the answer is always “I’m telling the truth. You’ve never been more lovely.”back

Promises, Promotions, and Trust: Building relation…

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