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FutureNow Article
Monday, Nov. 26, 2007

7 Deadly Claims (Part 1) — “Superior Customer Service”

By Jeff Sexton
November 26th, 2007

There’s a great paragraph in Gary Klein’s book, The Power of Intuition, that explains everything you need to know about the pitfalls of branding claims. It provides a two-part litmus test for substantive, credible claims — and even tells you how to quickly spot unsubstantiated claims that threaten to drain the credibility right out of your copy. Here it is:

“The defining feature of information is that it reduces uncertainty. If I say that I want our company to be profitable this year, that isn’t offering very much useful information. What else would I want? It only counts as information if there is a reasonable alternative position that I am rejecting. To say that ‘Customer satisfaction is my number-one priority’ is public relations, not information. If, however, I say that customer satisfaction needs to improve and that I would be willing to trade .5 percent of profits for an increase in satisfaction ratings of 10 percent, that would count as information. If I can’t tell you what costs I am willing to bear in order to achieve customer satisfaction, then I’m just blathering”

Based on Klein’s test, a claim is unsubstantiated (and unpersuasive) when it fails to…

A) reject a reasonable alternative position, and

B) show what costs the claim-maker is willing to bear in fulfilling the claim/promise.

The idea for this series, in case you’re wondering, came when I found this list of the most-popular gobbledygook claims used in Press Releases. So, I thought it would be fun to use that as a basis for this slightly different list of common, persuasion-killing claims found in Web copy:

  1. Superior Customer Service
  2. Easy to Use
  3. Most Experienced
  4. We’re #1
  5. 100% Risk-Free
  6. Cutting Edge
  7. Best Value

Looking at Klein’s first requirement, I can’t think of any company on the planet that’s ever publicly claimed lousy customer service, or marketed their product as difficult-to-use and frustrating. But if done right, acknowledging the flip-side to some of these has the potential for marketing genius, a la Avis (a testament to the power of accentuating the negative).

Of course, none of these claims tells the reader what costs the claim-maker is willing to bear in order to fulfill them. And that, of course, means we’ve got a solid gold list of unsubstantiated blather — and a pretty clear roadmap on how to transform each claim into credible, persuasive copy.

For the next few weeks, I’ll work through each of these 7 claims. (This first one might be the most popular of all.)

1) Superior Customer Service

Here’s the problem: Experiencing great customer service opens peoples’ mouths to spread the good word about a company. Hearing or reading unsubstantiated claims of great customer service, meanwhile, opens their mouths wide for a good yawn. (And I’m hardly unique in this way. As my colleague, Tim Miles, likes to say, “Don’t tell her you’re courteous. Open her door!“)

My first advice is to consider NOT re-working this claim, but simply dropping it altogether. Let your great customer service surprise and “wow” new customers, lest your solid service fail to live up to the “wow” hype.

But if you must claim “superior customer service,” the first step in making it believable is to make your online visitors’ experience as intuitive and pleasant as possible. Anticipate and meet visitors’ needs online, and they’ll more likely believe your intentions to do so offline.

The second step is to have a few Nordstram-type stories up your sleeve in order to capture the emotional essence of great customer service, allowing your website visitors to experience some of your “door opening” vicariously. Prospects who can picture your over-the-top service in their minds become customers who pay for that service in your stores.

The third step is to make the actual claim as tangible and specific as possible by…

  • Making a verifiable promise.
    • “You’re phone call will be answered by a human being within 7 rings. We never use automated answering services.”
    • “We’ll arrive within the hour you’ve scheduled or the repair is free.” (Notice the use of the “or ____” formula. Tell the reader what she’s entitled to if you don’t come through.)
  • Measuring the effect of your fabulous customer service
    • “Our customer turnover is less than 5% per year — that’s 7 times lower than the industry average, and 5 times lower than our nearest competitor!”
    • “Our repeat customer rate is 80% — 4/5ths of the people who do business with us re-hire us!”
    • “We resolve 9 out of 10 insurance claims within 48 hours.”
  • Establishing (or implying) the cost of your customer service.
    • “Last year we spent $800,000 training our 70 service technicians. That’s more than $10k per technician in order to keep them at the cutting edge.”
    • “We staff our own help desk – no answering services, no off-shore technical support. For your convenience, the desk is staffed 24/7 with technical service reps who have no less than 2 years experience .” (Notice how I verified the quality of the service. Always close the loopholes.)

Isn’t it amazing how real information sounds completely different than generic claims? While customers are rapidly becoming deaf to the blather, their ears remain tuned to the sounds of substance; tones worth using in Web copy.

[Editor's note: Has your site left visitors under-served? Sharpen up your virtual sales pitch at our Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar on March 28th in San Francisco. Jeff and Holly will be your instructors for this first-ever West Coast edition of our popular one-day copywriting crash course. Class size is limited so that attendees can get real advice and actually learn something. You'll even get $100 off if you register by 2/29.]

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Comments (21)

  1. Great Article,

    I would love to see some expirementation and testing done on these issues. I believe that there is a measurable ‘banner blindness’ type effect (BS Blindness? going on. IE if you expose consumers to these BS messages, even if centre screen, flashing and in large friendly letters, they will not see it.

    I would guess that the addition of a substantial (I mean literally substantial-containing substance) sub-sentence/heading would increase recal by 100s of % maybe even 1000s, and the impact (measured any way you like) of these would probably be even bigger.

    “Industry Leading Customer Service”


    “Industry Leading Customer Service”
    “You’re phone call will be answered by a human being – Fast. We Promise.”

  2. You’ve hit on the problem, Jeff. Many or most companies don’t have satisfactory “real information” to proffer. So we’re back to the Guy Kawasaki maxim: “Get better reality.”

  3. I was thinking about this post when I came across this:

    “|_________|is a leading provider of web analytics and consumer-centric marketing intelligence solutions.”
    At the top of every page of ‘some company’s site’.

    Can you fill in the blanks? (only 6-7 possibilities, really)

    They should know better. I suppose it fills a dual purpose:
    - It tells anyone familiar with the self indulgent (ironically unconsumer-centric)jargon – “web analytics and consumer-centric marketing intelligence solutions”
    - It makes an unsubstantiated claim – “leading provider” (even though it substantiatable, they are to my knowledge ‘a’ leading provider)

    In their defence the only wasted word is ‘of’.

  4. [...] pensar en formatos y redactar utilizando un tópico tras otro. Nunca más, como bien comentan en Future Now decir que somos los mejores producirá otra cosa que una risa o un [...]

  5. [...] is the first of a series of articles by Jeff Sexton for Grokdotcom, 7 Deadly Claims: #1 – “Superior Customer Service:” The idea for this series, in case you’re wondering, came when I found this list of the [...]

  6. [...] Sexton does not like unsubstantiated assertions. Here he talks about why “superior customer service” are hollow [...]

  7. Absolutely fabulous post Jeff.

    The biggest key here that you point out repeatedly is being very specific with the claims in your copy.

    Giving them dimension and making them genuine and believable.

    It’s exactly what would work to sell a prospect one on one.

    Advertising is salesmanship.

    Thank you so much for your insights.

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

  8. [...] More: Jeff Sexton, GrokDotCom: The 7 Deadly Claims (Part One) – “Superior Customer Service.” The local printer’s website says, “You will call it fantastic.” Forget fantastic. [...]

  9. Excellent Post/series! This concept can really help a company find out how well their customer service really is? Not only by trying to claim how they service their customers, but actually digging into the stats, such as:

    - How fast calls are answered
    - Answering staff vs. machine
    - Customer turnover rate
    - Repeat customers
    - Resolved customer issues

    This will really help our company to dig a little deeper into how well we are currently satisfying our customers.

  10. Superior is one of those words like quality. They’ve lost any impact on prospects. They want proof of your success. I also think you should also address what you should do if you don’t meet their level of satisfaction. I think it’s why a guarantee is important for most service providers.

  11. Yes, I agree with Scott. Last week I got a spam email saying: “original quality”. What does it mean? That it’s fake, but in an original quality?

  12. 7 Deadly Claims…

    Jeff Sexton at Future Now identifies and challenges seven common marketing claims, explaining why they are ineffective and offering ideas for making them persuasive.
    1. Superior Customer Service
    2. Easy to Use
    3. Most Experienced
    4. We’re #1

  13. [...] buyer confidence is everything – without it the sale is lost.  That’s why methods of substantiating claims and establishing credibility are frequent topics of [...]

  14. I have 4 words:

    Under Promise, Over Deliver

    People never tend to believe in promises anymore. The primary reason is: too much effective marketing. That said, if you do promise more value than you can deliver, people will hold that against you. It’s a double edged sword.

  15. Florida Web Design,

    Great words to live by. The problem with “customer service” is that it’s usually a lousy differentiator / UVP that is impossible to “underpromise” on in any meaningful way. Would any customer get excited about pretty good customer service? If you’re gonna hype customer service as a UVP (and I don’t recommend doing that), you almost have to promise big. And then the whole “Under Promise. Over Deliver” thing goes out the window.

    - Jeff

  16. So many ways to say the same thing with better effect, the only thing is its a bit dangerous to put details when you don’t actually have/do all those wonderfull things.

  17. your blog is so excellent.

  18. Your work is very good and I appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. thank you for sharing great information to us

  19. Nice articles thank you for shairing with us, i just now book mark this site hope for good new post

  20. [...] The 7 Deadly Claims: Part 1 — “Superior Customer Service” how to quickly spot unsubstantiated claims that threaten to drain the credibility right out of your copy (tags: writing credibility web-writing customer-experience customer-values) [...]

  21. [...] quickly spot unsubstantiated claims that threaten to drain the credibility right out of your copy Go to The 7 Deadly Claims: Part 1 — “Superior Customer Service” → « Previous Next [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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