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It happens with alarming frequency. Businesses and organisations letting you down. Not always in a huge way, or enough to make you complain, it’s just that you seem to end up feeling a little underwhelmed.

Every day we make decisions about which company to buy from, no doubt after some consideration about what the company stands for and whether what they’re selling will do what you need or want. And it pisses me off the number of times that what we end up with doesn’t match up to those expectations.

Like the online retailer who promises personal service and no-quibble returns, but still hasn’t processed your refund four weeks after you sent back the item and now won’t answer your emails (and doesn’t have a phone number for you to call).

Or the restaurant with ‘only the freshest, locally-sourced produce’ who serves you up a badly-microwaved fish pie and withered reheated veg that’s pretty much inedible (and believe me, I’ll eat pretty much anything so it must’ve been bad).

Or the cable company who tells you to ‘Believe in Better‘, yet takes 20 minutes to answer the phone when your broadband has stopped working, only to tell you sorry, but the next available engineer isn’t for two weeks and that, as it isn’t technically their fault, there will be no refund or compensation for the fact that you can’t run your business for the next two weeks.

It sucks right? And what makes me even more cross is that most of the time we simply accept it as a fact of life and move on with our day.

How did we get to a place where it’s normal for us to accept mediocre (or sometimes downright shitty) service from companies? Why is it ok to just feel ‘meh’ about services and goods that we’re paying our hard-earned pennies for?

And, perhaps the more pressing question is how do these businesses get it so wrong?

Lots of copywriters have similar conversations with their clients about what they want to include in their marketing copy.


“We need to say that we produce quality work”

“We should say that we’re innovative, that we think outside the box”

“Let’s talk about our traditional values”

Which is all totally fine of course, except that often it’s not really true.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that these companies don’t want to be like that or that they’re deliberately trying to deceive people. It’s just that often people get carried away by sounding like the big boys and using words that have been so overused they’ve pretty much lost all meaning (yes, ‘innovative’ and ‘solutions’, I’m talking to you).

They say they’re innovative, but their whole approach actually seems pretty standard.

They say they take the time to listen and have attention to detail, but they’ve missed several important items from your project scope, even though you’ve told them twice already.

Companies are making these promises to people because they think they ‘sound good’, but just because you say you’re something, doesn’t mean you are. And this, I believe, is why so many businesses are leaving their customers feeling a little miffed.

When people read your website, your brochure or a sales email, you’re actually making a series of promises to them.

So when your actions don’t back up what you’ve already told them, you’re breaking your promises to them. And although neither of you realise what’s happening, every time you break one of those promises, you’re eroding away the trust that your carefully crafted copy worked so hard to establish.

So how do we make sure this doesn’t happen to us?

It’s all good and well telling your customers what you do and how you work, but you need to demonstrate it to them as well.

If you pride yourself on your traditional values, use language and design that shows these values rather than simply saying it. And then show them in your actions. Send them a handwritten thank you note and make sure your entire team has exemplary manners.

If you tell your customers that you ‘take the time to understand their needs’, you’d better bloody well take the time. You need to make them feel like they’re the most important person in the world to you. And you’d better make damn sure they don’t have to tell you things twice.

It is astounding how many companies fail to do this. But the great news for you is that when you keep the promises you’ve made, however seemingly small or insignificant, your customers begin to trust you. When you continue to do what you’ve said you will, they’ll usually end up completely bloody delighted. And then they will love you forever.

So next time you’re writing your marketing copy or planning what to say in a sales meeting, think about those promises you’re making. Of course what you write or say can, and should, set expectations but remember that your words can’t keep those promises for you.