Setting and Breaking the Rules

According to the American Marketing Association’s definition of
marketing, “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions and processes
for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have
value for customers, clients, partners and society at large”. This is the
AMA’s new definition as of 2007. It reflects the AMA’s feeling that
marketing provides long-term value rather than just an “exchange of
money” which would be considered short term.


Long-term value is a good idea if you’re in O&P. In this
industry, practitioners have customers for life. It is not a matter of
convenience, but of necessity which makes customer relationship management
especially crucial. Boundaries are good, rules are better.

If you are in a customer service oriented business, like most O&P
companies are, then it is easy to fall into the “customer is always
right” trap. You want to please the people – your customers –
that mean the most to you and you have to be careful that it does not backfire.
Sure it is great to be able to overpromise and then deliver on that overpromise
– “Of course we can have it to you by midnight tonight” –
but what happens the next time when you cannot have it there by midnight
tonight and instead of your customer understanding that last time was a
Herculean effort on your part, they only see the fact that you will not do it
again? Great customer service is all about managing expectations.


Those of you who read this column regularly, know that I fly Delta
exclusively. For 2011 I am a Platinum Medallion member so if I fly alone, I
usually get an upgrade. If I fly with a companion, even though I can request an
upgrade for them, I do not usually take the upgrade if my companion does not
get one too. When you fly in coach, you get treated like you are in coach. No
big deal. It is what it is. That is what makes the upgrade so worthwhile.


The last time I flew with a companion and refused the upgrade so we
could sit together in coach, the lead flight attendant came back to my seat,
greeted me by name and asked me what she could bring me from the first class
cabin. Drinks? Food? Cookies? I just about fell out of my seat. That never
happens. Now, I am familiar with the upgrade rules and I know she was
needlessly going above and beyond. I was delighted. Will I expect the same
level of service next time I refuse an upgrade? No. I am very clear on the
rules. First class service is first class service when you are seated in first
class. It does not matter who you are if you sit in coach, you get coach
service. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Let me be perfectly clear. Rules are important since they let everyone
know what is expected of them and what they should expect. It is impossible to
provide an unexpected level of customer service, like the flight attendant did,
if you do not have any expectations. I did, which is why I was delighted.

Ground rules

Do your customers know what the rules of your business are? Do they know
that it takes 48 hours for a non-hospital call AFO fabrication? Do they know
that if they call after 5 p.m. EST that their order is not going out until the
next day? Do they know your “rules?” Do they appreciate when you
“break” them? I guarantee they do as long as they know what they are.

For a non-travel example, I placed an order one day with
I received it the next day but did not request – or pay for –
overnight shipping. Their standard charge (unless you have a free shipping
coupon) is $2.95 on all their orders. How much good do you think they created
with me by getting me my order the next day? Tons. I shop there all the time. I
know that next day for $2.95 is unheard of and I do not expect it. I know their
rule and I am delighted when they break it.

Elizabeth Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield is the president of
Outsource Marketing Solutions. She can be reached at

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