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If we read another proposed mission statement which includes the hackneyed phrase meeting and exceeding expectations, we might be tempted to change professions. These words, which sounded great when they were first used 50 or 60 years ago, are now so grossly overused that they have completely lost their meaning.

What we have been trying to say in such mission statements, of course, is that we will try very hard to make our product quality and service at least as good as we think our customers want -and hopefully better. But are we accomplishing this goal? What level of quality should we be shooting for, anyway? Do we write these statements, print them up nicely for circulation, display them prominently on the wall, and then forget them?

Maybe its time to ask ourselves some tough questions: Do we really know what our customers want? Is it possible that their expectations have been lowered over the years to match the level which they have actually been receiving? Are we giving them what they ought to get if we are truly the classy outfit which we think we are? Have we lowered our own company standards to a level which is only equal to or slightly better than those of our competitors because thats good enough?

While traveling through the Midwest a few years ago, we noticed a restaurant ad on a billboard which read, Were Not the Best, But Were Awfully Good. That sign became kind of a running joke in our family, but when you really think about it, the owners honesty was refreshing. He wasnt pretending to be something he was not; all he was asking us to do was to come in and try his restaurant. Our guess is that he hadnt promised more than he could deliver, and that most people probably liked what they found there. A formal mission statement which might have said that he was going to meet and exceed the expectations of his customers wouldnt have added a thing. The proof,of course, is in what he actually did, not in what he said he would do.

Theres nothing wrong with the basic concept of meeting and exceeding expectations, we just need to find a more meaningful, up-to-date way of expressing how we intend to treat our customers. Instead of using those old hollow words, think up some new ones which arent already posted on every business wall in the nation. Tailor them to your customers and your marketing area, and make them sincere, specific and easily understood.

We might express in plain words, for example, a company Golden Rule something like this:

We promise to treat you the way we would like to be treated.

We promise to sell you the same quality products which we would want to purchase.

We recognize that each of our customers is an individual, not just a name or account number, and we solicit your feedback at any time, any place, to anyone.

We want to keep you as a customer,and we hope that our actions will be more meaningful to you than any promises anyone else might make.

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