Can We Handle the Truth?

Jack Nicholson as Col Jessep famously said, ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ (A Few Good Men, 1992) and maybe he had a point – well that certainly seems to be what many companies think when they position and market their products and services to us.

As customers, we are increasingly finding once we have chosen to buy a product or service we are then on the receiving end of messages designed to lower our expectations. What is going on here? The cynics in us wonder whether this is a deliberate strategy to lower our expectations; stop us being dissatisfied and complaining we aren’t getting what we were promised. Perhaps, just as bad, these mixed messages highlight a disconnect between Marketing and Operations.

Have you experienced anything like these examples?

  • A broadband provider whose installers let you know (after they have finished) that the speeds you thought you were going to get may not happen for the first couple of months
  • The holiday company that lets you know as part of the confirmation that everything is subject to change and they have the right to change flights, move hotel, etc.
  • The supermarket that tells you at the till, after you have paid, that actually you could have got it cheaper so have a discount next time (will there be a next time!)

We call this the Reality Gap – the difference between the marketing spin and the end user experience. In our opinion, this feels like a short-term fix for a company – lowering our expectations once we have parted with our money risks lasting damage to the perception of a brand and our loyalty as a customer.

Something else bothers us too – in Behavioural Economics we learn that customers go through a phase of ‘post purchase rationalisation’ – especially for major purchases, where they will overlook any faults in a product or service to justify their choice. Organisations can exploit this knowledge and time the telling of ‘the truth’, knowing that once we have made the decision it’s far less likely we will pick up the phone to complain or cancel.

We can see why this approach might appeal as it may well reduce cancellations during a cooling off period, for but over time as a customer we may well feel disenchanted or a sense of brand betrayal, that will leave us shopping around next time we make this decision.

Having a dialogue with customers in an age where self-service dominates and customer interactions are ‘super-charged’ is rare. By avoiding customer feedback against their marketing promises, aren’t companies missing an opportunity to find out what customers really want?

What is the answer?

Delivering on all marketing promises on every occasion is one answer, but perhaps that’s a leap too far for some. Therefore, instead of trying to avoid customer conversations with dissatisfied customers by cutting them off at the pass through lowering expectations – we recommend companies encourage these type of conversations, and ensure that all their customer facing employees have the capability to have brilliant conversations that are focused on the reality for us, the customer.

Then on those odd occasions when businesses can’t meet marketing promises they can at least help us have a service conversation where they listen, take ownership and deliver the customer justice we’re hunting for.

Resources you might be interested in…