Minimum Viable Impeccability

Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean.
-Don Miguel Ruiz

When companies make big promises, customers expect big things.  Those big promises draw us in, we want to see what it’s like to try that new amazing restaurant. Get the legendary service. Have that emotional experience. That’s what we’re after.

These big promises work because they connect us. They excite us and they speak to our deepest hopes. We want to be emotionally connected with every company that we work with. We want to be connected and inspired emotionally.

Except that when we make a promise like this, then we have to keep it.

And if we fail to live up to our standards, then we have to send the money back. All of it. Without being asked. Because that’s what we have to live up to.  When you make a promise -no matter what –  a start date, a delivery date, a result – you must keep it. When you make an error in delivery, you correct your systems.

If you break your word, you can’t keep their money.

Or else you are a fraud. Plain. Simple.

If we promise on time delivery, and we’re FedEx, then we’d have to give the money back the instant we knew that any order was a second late.  Before the customer complained, asked or engaged.

Second: You Are Responsible For the Actions of Your Vendors & Subcontractors

So many providers blame their vendors.

“It wasn’t my fault your site went down, there was an error with our DNS provider.”
(No. You failed to secure a backup.)

“Cover Oregon would have been great but Oracle screwed it up.
Except that Oracle has delivered for every other client.

“Your Amazon Prime Order is Late Because UPS Screwed it Up.”
Except that it was really predictable to know this before hand and you should have adjusted your systems to account for edge cases.

This is typical of a failure. Most providers select their vendors, then blame their vendors when anything goes wrong.

Anytime anyone does this, run.  (Instead: “Hey, the vendor we chose for you is having trouble. We’re working hard to support them so we can be back in integrity.”

When a vendor fails, and you’ve vouched for them, then you pony up.

Because otherwise, what good is your word?

So, What Is Minimum Viable Impeccability?

“When you hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else can imagine, you always soar above the mark others have set for you.”

Anthony Iannarino, in The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need

Great question. Here’s what the baseline is.

Firstany time you make any promise, you’re saying to your customer: if we mess up any of these things, you’ll be offered a refund.

This includes (at a minimum)

  • Project Start Dates
  • Delivery Dates
  • Amount of interaction they’ll get
  • Amount of work they’ll have to do.
  • Promises you make that are specific to your industry, company or standards

There are many other elements to a good service. That’s one of them.

Second, never wait for the customer to ask for the refund. That’s making them beg for your honesty and beneath the standards of all but the most wretched charlatans.

If you break your word on anything under any circumstances…be unreasonable with yourself.

Initiate the request and give them the option of having their money back. That’s basic honesty, and it will create a situation where failure becomes impossible really quickly

If you break your word you can never keep their money. 

Third, continually increase your standards so that there is no possibility of failure. Create redundant systems when you make and keep promises.

That’s the kaizen philosophy. In the book The Lean Startup by Eric Reis, the most moving passage is when a new engineer made an error that cost lost productivity and server crashes . The reaction of the supervisors wasn’t shame on you for failing.

It was shame on us for allowing you to fail. They blamed the system, not the person. That must be your business.  Make promises, keep them and improve your system.

For a smaller business, this could mean investments in extra hands, this could mean saying no when you’re 99% sure that you’ll be successful.  But being impeccable in your word, as an owner is a core component of your own integrity.

Next Steps:

  1. What promises are you making to your customers?
  2. What implied promises exist?
  3. Are you currently impeccable?
  4. What are you doing to come into integrity in your own business?
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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.

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