I experiment with my children all the time. I approached my 8-year-old son one day and asked, “Jerred, let's pretend we have a plan to go on a trip to Disney World, say this Friday, but we had to postpone it because I had a meeting.” With a straight face I continued, “How would you feel if I promised that next Friday you'd be shaking Mickey Mouse's hand?”

“Well, I'd be disappointed, but you promised, so as the week went by I'd get really excited again,” he said as seriously as an 8-year-old can sound when contemplating a trip to Disney World.

Then I continued to probe how my lack of follow through would be met by Jerred. “What if I came home that next Thursday, hit myself in the head when I saw you and said, ‘Oh no! I forgot to get the airplane tickets for Disney World!’ How would you feel?”

Even though we were pretending, my son, who loves me more than any person on the face of the Earth, got a very serious expression on his face. “Daddy that would be a lie!”

Promises are important to children. But something happens to us as we grow up. Promises get broken more often. Then, as we gain our own responsibilities, we wind up breaking some of our own promises. Before too long we are using legally invented terms like “warranty” and “guarantee” just so we don't have to keep a promise.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Market leaders make promises to their customers then work like crazy to keep them. One of my favorite examples is McDonald's. They promise your food is fast, filling, and fun (at least for kids). McDonald's has been so consistent with its promises they have become the number-one food franchise in the world. The company's promises make up the essence of the brand [remember, they never promise health!].

What are you promising your health club customers? How about cleanliness (facility, locker rooms, grounds), nutrition (food supplements, healthy snacks and drinks on site, dieticians on staff), fitness variety (league sports such as volleyball, basketball, swim meets; different training equipment and programs), information (informed trainers to guide customers to accomplish fitness goals for weight, strength, aerobic conditioning)?

I bet you didn't realize you were making so many promises to your members, did you? The real question isn't are you making them it is are you keeping them?

BY THE NUMBERS

How many promises should a club make? No fewer than three and no more than six. Two promises won't provide enough variety to make a business thrive. More than six is too complicated. Costs run too high and customers can't keep straight what the business is all about.

Keep your promises between three and six and you will realize some amazing benefits. First your investments in equipment and staff get simpler. All workers get very clear about what to offer patrons. This new focus drives up quality. This attracts more of your best customers (you know — the people that really appreciate your products and services).

Some of your promises will be similar to your competitors (for example, every facility should be clean) so make at least one promise that you do better than anyone in your market area. That promise becomes your competitive edge.

Once you have your three to six promises, organize your entire operation to consistently deliver them. Many business owners are delighted at the new focus concentrating on promises brings. All are excited at the results from their customers.

David Crowley is a national speaker and business consultant with Resonate Inc.; e-mail at dcrowley@resonating.com.