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Marketing exaggeration sets up poor service complaints

Industries ranging from telecom to travel are experiencing the downside of exaggerated marketing claims unsupported by performance. An ad touting lightning-fast 5G connections offers disappointment when customers learn that it’s available so far only in certain areas with certain cellphones.

Airlines boasting terrific accommodations are almost doomed to disappoint when travelers wind up stuffed to the max in seats with ever-smaller breadths and lengths.

Offers of same-day or next-day retail delivery are subject to a variety of potential delays, including weather, transportation snafus and fulfillment issues.

As the ability to seemingly do more, do it faster, do it better expands, so do the claims. Unfortunately, that just ramps up the pressure on advertisers to actually deliver on these attractive promises. Many customers wind up feeling as though they’ve been sold a bill of goods.

That’s not the type of customer service that will ensure loyalty and longevity. How can companies help frame expectations accurately while still marketing leading-edge services and products?

Talk it down a notch or two.
The difference, for example, between “5G is heading your way” and “5G is here” speaks volumes to consumers. When I asked T-Mobile about its availability recently, the rep stated that they’re still getting organized and that the deployment of 5G is a work in process. That would have been fine, except for the spate of TV spots aggrandizing its existence. Bottom line, I’m left wondering if/how/when to address getting 5G service on my phone. (Evidently, I can’t; so, the first step is to invest in a new phone. I’m not feeling that impelled, so it probably will be a while.)

Underpromise and overdeliver.
I’ve been harping on this lately with Amazon. Their ever-more-aggressive delivery promises increasingly aren’t kept. If they backed ‘er down a day or two, reverting to two-day delivery as a Prime standard instead of one-day or same-day, I’d actually applaud the move. But that’s doubtful. They will continue to prime us for faster deliveries while they work out the kinks and continue to miss their deadlines. To me, that’s not building the most “customer centric” company on earth.

Admit you’re less than perfect.
Companies typically are loathe to admit mistakes or missteps. In part, that’s because of our litigious society where any admission of fault or inadequacy can become fodder for a lawsuit. While this approach may satisfy corporate counsel, it leaves customers often confused, confounded and just plain frustrated. While an apology about rude customer treatment—usually blaming the employee—comes forth quickly from an airline representative, it often feels canned and scripted to conform to legal mumbo jumbo.

None of this is rocket science. But, as I frequently say, the essence of good customer service isn’t either. As companies hopefully become more able and willing to be real and transparent with their customers (which may involve, in part, putting duct tape over their lawyers’ mouths), the better aligned marketing claims will be with company performance.

Given that companies already doing this are generally having great success—both in terms of customer ratings and profitability—it just makes sense…common sense.


Essentially, treating people well and keeping them happy is substantially about treating others the way you want to be treated. Putting together and maintaining a system that will do this reliably across all customer service audiences in a rapidly expanding marketplace is the biggest challenge. Where to start? By understanding that the most successful customer service programs stem from caring, committed performance inside the company. Any efforts to market good customer service should come from authenticity, not grandiose, exaggerated claims unable to stand up to the light of day.

Do you have customer service snafus or stellar experiences to share? If so, feel free to comment on this post or email your thoughts to

Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

One reply on “Marketing exaggeration sets up poor service complaints”

You nailed it in this one. The same old “Bait and Switch” advertising con has been repackaged. Consumers need to be reminded that Emptor Caveat is still a good way to respond to advertisers who use superlatives and hyperbolic claims for their products….or political candidates for that matter.

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