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The Business of Making and Keeping Promises
Mathew Augustine
Principal & COO-Hanna Global Solutions
Friday, June 1, 2012
Almost all human interaction is about making and keeping promises. For a company that delivers services to its clients, it is ONLY about making and keeping promises.

A promise to someone is the setting of an expectation in the mind of that someone that something will happen at a certain time. Typically, that something, and that certain time, are variables, and can be negotiated, with more being done faster for a higher price.

What are the categories of promises?

1. Voluntary promises – No one is asking, or forcing one to make it.It is volunteered to a client, with the expectation of getting something back from the client (increase in relationship 'equity').

2. Discretionary promises – one agrees to do something that is asked for. It is not required by the client by way of contractual obligation, or to meet a committed service level and you can say not without compromising the relationship with the client.One could say no to either the content, or the deadline of the promise.

3. Mandatory promises – there is no option to say 'no', as there is something else beyond the control of the client that is driving the requirement of this promise. The mandatory nature could be either by way of content, or the deadline.

a. Content mandatory – the specific content of the promise is not negotiable, but has to be carried out as required.

b. Deadline mandatory – the time by which the promise has to be delivered is not negotiable, and an externally specified deadline has to be met. All the above promises could be:

1. Implied – maybe implied in some other promise or communication given to a client, and not explicitly stated as a promise.

2. Assumed – a client assumes a promise to have been given, even though it has not been explicitly stated.Sometimes one may not even be aware of a client’s expectations based on this assumption. 3. Explicit – is given in writing to a client, as either part of a larger agreement, or service level agreements, or specific discussion and acceptance.

Avoid implied and assumed promises, and move ALL promises to being explicit. This means all promises must be written down, to ensure successful long-term client relationships.

The core to the structure of a promise is the setting of an expectation. One must try to capture as much of this as possible in a Service Level Agreement, by listing out a Statement of Work and Service Level Expectations. Refer to these documents often, to make sure you are meeting standards promised, and coaching clients to expect these standards. There may however be many ad hoc requirements that come up on a daily basis, in any relationship with clients, and it is not practical to cover all situations in an agreement. Try to capture as quickly as possible, in writing, the expectations that are set in the course of a conversation with a client.

Most often, promises are made by sales members or client relationship team members. These are people who do not control the actual delivery of the promise. Promises that are delivered by other people in the company must not be confirmed without verifying with the parties concerned. There will have to be different processes for negotiating the terms of the three different types of promises – voluntary, discretionary, and mandatory.

If it is voluntary, that is, if no client is asking or forcing one to make it, suggest ideas to a client without confirming it can be done within the expected time, and then get back later and set the expectation, after confirming with other parties involved in the delivery of the promise.

If it is discretionary, that is, if content or deadline is negotiable, discuss the tradeoff of time vs. content with the client, so that the right balance of time vs. content may be confirmed to client, after discussion with other parties involved.

If it is mandatory, that is, there is no option to say ‘no’, understand the source of the compulsion, what drives the mandatory nature of the requirement, if there are components of the promise that may be negotiable, if there are options to phase delivery of the promise, and so on. The discussion with the other parties involved in delivery in this case is most probably not whether it can be delivered, but how it can be delivered, and how much the delivery will cost.

What is our challenge as a service delivery business? To make and keep promises, day in and day out, to our clients, and to other members of the service delivery team. If we make too many promises, or we don’t have enough resources to keep them, we have dissatisfied clients, and they will leave.If we don’t make enough promises, competitors will woo them away with more promises. It is a balance... as is all of life! An understanding of the categories of promises, and the structure of a promise, can help us achieve the right balance, and run a successful business.

Hanna Global Solutions is an Employee Benefits advisory and administration firm specializing in the design and delivery of comprehensive H.R. and benefit solutions, tailored to fit today’s complex needs.

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