Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to make a couple of calls to one of those companies that we all use and do not have to call very often. It doesn’t really matter which company it was or what industry, as the experience is universal. In this short space, I’m going to talk about one of my pet peeves regarding dealing with calls centers—namely, describing the experience I am about to receive using superlative adjectives.

Probably the one I’ve heard most frequently is “excellent service.” I first recall hearing this in the early 90s. I was having real difficulty with an organization doing what I needed it to do, and had to call multiple times to try and make it happen. Each time I was greeted with, “How may I provide you with excellent service today?” I got so flummoxed one time that I actually recall saying, “You can’t. Could we just get to mediocre?”

Back to more recently, I was put on hold and told that within approximately ten minutes or less I would receive the legendary service that their representatives were known to provide. I began thinking about a Museum of Legendary Customer Service, and further, that they might put it on a small lot in Cleveland near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, it couldn’t take up that much room, right?

Here’s the Problem with Buzzwords

As old-fashioned as the notion might seem, words are supposed to mean something. Thus, when we consider words like “excellent” and “legendary” in connection with customer service, the general assumption is that what is being offered should be of very high quality. There is nothing “iffy” about these words. By using words like this, the companies doing so are setting their customers’ expectations very high. High expectations, delivered upon, are great. However, customer expectations that are set high and then immediately dashed can be a disaster.

A recent study conducted by MaritzCX provides insight into what happens when automotive sales and service fails to live up to customer expectations: Namely, a dramatic drop in the likelihood that customers will repurchase from the same dealership unless customers are completely satisfied.

So why do companies set expectations so high? I suspect a great deal of it has to do with an understanding that excellent customer service is truly important. Most likely, C-level executives hear from their marketing and advertising teams that customers want excellent customer service, and that promotional materials should make that promise. All too often these executives are lulled to believe that this is the right thing to do. They forget that while marketing and advertising perform important functions, much of what they put out is aspirational. In short, it sounds great – but it’s more of a goal than a reality.

So, despite their best intentions, companies that use buzzwords like “excellent customer service” too loosely are setting themselves up to fail on delivering their promise. Customers come away with the feeling that, in fact, companies do not understand what their needs are—which is often true. Worst of all, customers may feel that any company that uses such superlatives to describe mediocre service must think its customers are really stupid and that their customers will actually believe the hype. The customers don’t, and they think even more poorly of the company. Obviously not the original intention, but there you have it.

No Easy Solutions, but Progress is Possible

Even if a company has not developed much of a customer experience program, its leaders most likely suspect that most customers do not associate legendary service with a 10-minute hold time. If a company currently has a Voice of the Customer program, then it probably has at least some idea of what customers find to be the most difficult part of the customer experience.

The important mantra here is twofold 1): Work to understand what your customers desire in the customer experience and aim to make improvements, and 2) Don’t overpromise on what you cannot deliver. Let’s deconstruct each of these ideas a bit more.

Our CXEvolution model measures 14 different competencies, all of which are necessary to reach the highest level of customer experience maturity. Central to the model is the notion that a company needs to gain an understanding of what customers want and to develop systematic procedures to get as close as possible to delivering upon it. This might mean reducing hold times at a call center, empowering a call center representative to handle more actions without bringing in the dreaded supervisor, or training representatives better—all win-win for not only customers, but the company as well. It clearly does not mean simply saying that your company has legendary customer service.

Which brings us to messaging. At MaritzCX, we have seen that one of the most dramatic shortfalls in customer satisfaction derives from promising and not delivering. While it is important to keep your company in a positive light, nobody likes a braggart. This is just as true with companies as it is with human beings. So, it is better to put a company’s energies into making practical customer experience improvements, albeit small ones and not all at one time, than to squander time and talent waxing poetic about the customer experience.

Trust me, your customers will thank you.