Your Time or Your Word?

ConfusionHave you ever said you would take care of a problem, knowing you weren’t going to do anything about it?  Maybe it’s just one customer complaint out of thousands of customers.  Does it really matter if you say you will fix it to make the customer happy and then let it drop?  Yes it does for several reasons.  First, your word is now questionable because you didn’t follow through on it.  Secondly, that customer may give your organization a second chance and when they find no change, the word of the entire organization has lost its meaning.

About two weeks after I transferred from one factory to another I was called to address some concerns and questions from our field service representatives.  One, Pierre, was really angry with the quality of several products coming out of that factory.  Unfortunately, this was the first I heard about it, so all I could do was say I would check into it and find a solution.  Pierre basically said my word was worthless because my predecessor had said that for years and nothing had changed.  Why should he believe me?  Now I’m really on the spot, what can I say as he had been let down more than once by this factory?  He was right to be mad.  I acknowledged his frustration and gave him my word it would be addressed immediately.  He still wasn’t buying it.  Fortunately for me there was a rep in room that I had worked with several times to fix problems while I was at the previous factory.  I knew Mike had been satisfied more than once with my efforts so I asked him to vouch for me.  He did and Pierre gave me a short window to address his concerns.  I found the issue that was causing his concern and changed the process to improve the quality.  The people performing the process had never heard of the issue; they weren’t thrilled with the change however they were willing to do what was needed to improve the quality of their work.  It put the problem to bed once and for all.  Our field service folks were much happier with the quality from the factory as were the end customers.

I can’t say for sure why my predecessor never really addressed the cause of the complaints but it really damaged the reputation of the factory with several field service representatives, dealers and end customers.  The time it took to address the quality issue was about a week total, investigating the cause, determining the best solution, communicating the change and then monitoring it.  Inside of a month it became a non-issue for production.  Yet it had festered with our customers for about three years and it took another year for them to really believe we would live up to our word.  By promising a fix and not changing anything it cost three years of mistrust and a year of rebuilding for something that took a week to get implemented.  That’s a poor investment in time and effort.

Following through on a commitment to a customer or co-worker may take extra time and effort on your part, but it is far less than it takes to fix the damage caused by dropping the ball.  Once people feel they cannot trust you to come through for them it will be very difficult to convince them to trust you.  People will give you the benefit of the doubt the first time, after that it is based on your past performance.  Skipping the follow up means your word is worth less than it was before and you may be bringing down everyone around you in the eyes of the customer.

It seems easy to make the promise and let it drop, however the damage can last years and haunt you and your organization.  Take the time to do what you said you would do, it will be less than the time needed to repair your reputation.  Develop the habit of being true to your word.


Filed under Leadership, Time Management

18 responses to “Your Time or Your Word?

  1. aprilml

    carol – integrity is one of my favorite topics (integration of the self). and it’s, sadly, sometimes difficult to find in people. you provide a wonderful example of acting with integrity, and what a difference it can make.

  2. Hi Carol, great post. Negligence on follow through can destroy companies as it ruins their reputation. It just plain ole says “we don’t care.”

  3. Carol- nice reminder about integrity. I heard it put once that if you really are after integrity… don’t just be true to your word, BE your word.

    Your word is all that you really can truly call your own… houses can burn down, trophies and possessions can be stolen. But your word is yours and your alone. Again, thanks for the reminder!

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  5. Carol – a great reminder that long time work relationships, be it with a customer or co-worker, are based on trust. You can easily separate the best from the rest with just one question, “Do I have your word on that?” and see how they respond and take action. The best understand that it is not about the promise, it’s about the delivery that makes all the difference.

    • Bill – Thanks! Trust is the basis of so many things and it still surprises me how often people act in ways that tarnish trust. I appreciate your comments.

      Have a terrific Tuesday!

  6. Keeping my word is something I consciously decided to do a while ago.
    Sometimes it’s hard thought. There are times when I just forget because I’ve got a lot of balls in there air at the time, and remember again a few days or maybe a week later that I was meant to email something through to someone or reply to something when I said I would. And then I have to apologise for taking so long.
    But I always make sure I do it.

    • Phillipa – It is hard to keep up with all the things you say you will do in our busy worlds. You are right to make sure you fulfill your promises as soon as possible. Keep looking for ways to track what you committed to doing so it’s easier to get it done right away – that can be hard enough but it helps.

      Have a great day!

  7. Great post on personal integrity! It doesn’t take too many slip up before a reputation is ruined, and that has a direct impact on both personal and professional relationships. Thanks for the great reminder.

  8. Once you get a reputation it can be hard to shake at work. It travels through the office like wildfire. Thanks for the post — a good reminder!

  9. Great point! Not only will you lose the trust of your customers by not following through on what you promised, but you’ll also miss out on a lot of referrals and new customers. When you’ve gone above and beyond to fix a problem, you can bet your customers will be talking about it and recommending you.

    • Casandra – Your comment reminds me of the old TV commercial about telling two friends who tell two friends…. Customers will talk about their experience and you want it to be great things instead of negative that they share. Studies show people will be more likely to share a bad experience than a good one. The power of referrals is huge!

      Thanks for commenting! Have a great day!

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