How to under promise over deliver?

under promise over deliver

Why you should not under promise and over deliver

A couple of years ago I was giving marketing and branding training to a group of senior sales professionals. As I have expected, many of these guys were only vaguely aware that whatever they/their team say or do in fact, have a direct impact on their company brand. Many senior management fail to realise that their front line employees are synonymous to the company. It only takes one disinterested, disengaged and unprofessional staff to unravel all the awesome work you have done in building up your brand. In this new world of high speed internet and instant global social sharing ecosystem, one person is all you need to create a social media maelstorm and PR nightmare.

So I posed my trainees a question: “How would you define good customer/client service?”

The response I got was typical and disappointingly cliche: “Under promise, over deliver.”

All the nerves in my body instinctively resisted that reply. Why? Why do you have to under promise? Maybe it was a groundbreaking concept back in the 80s when companies were only starting to focus on service excellence, but surely we would have moved on and understood that this phrase no longer served its purpose in this day and age.

When you under-promise, you are actually withholding the best of what you can potentially offer. In fact, you are deliberately under-selling your capabilities, so that when you finally do deliver on that promise, it looks like you have over-delivered.

I told the group this analogy: “It’s like telling a client – the best I can commit to you is 80% of my effort. When I eventually deliver 100% of what you have asked for, I am seen as “over-delivering” on my promise. In my opinion, that’s just being dishonest. All it takes is for one smart competitor to decipher that strategy of yours (if it’s a strategy at all to begin with), and commit 100% of their effort to the same client. The competition will leave you in the dust, wondering why you have failed where they have succeeded. Your 80% just wouldn’t cut it anymore – because someone else has proven they can go all the way.

The “Under Promise, Over Deliver” concept is based on a formula of 80% commitment + 20% “added value” (which isn’t really added value because you could have given 100% in the first place!).

I’d like to have my management think in the new paradigm of “Reasonable Promise and Over Delivery” – where the formula is now 100% commitment + 20% added value.

What this means is that every one of your staff should go out there – and commit (to their clients) 100% of what they can potentially and feasibly offer to their best ability, and then work on increasing customer’s delight / satisfaction by going out of their way to offer that 20% added value.

A true story

I have personally been on the receiving end of that remarkable service mindset. A couple of years ago I booked a bistro for a ladies’ networking event which I was organising on behalf of my company. I was pretty demanding and expected impeccable standards in terms of decor, food, wait staff, event flow etc. The Operations Director acceded to all my requests, and assured me he will deliver a perfect event to his best ability. If he has to step in himself to get things done, he will personally do so. On the day of the event, he was there to oversee the entire event. The decor, food and service were amazing and he delivered on all his promises (Reasonable Promise).

But what really left an indelible impression was not the fact that he delivered a perfect event. That was expected as he was paid to do so. It was what he did right before the event – that really brought the concept of “over delivery” to a new level. He came up to me and asked,”Have you had dinner?” I told him no – I don’t usually eat before an event. I have to ensure everything goes well before I would even allow myself to relax and eat something. I told him not to worry about it and scurried away to check on something else.

I returned 15 minutes later and was looking through our RSVP list when he came out with a piping hot and absolutely mouthwatering plate of Mushroom Risotto (which he remembered was my favourite Italian dish). He placed it in front of me and said,”Please have your dinner – it’s on me.”

He had already committed and delivered 100% (which meant I have not been shortchanged by an “under promise”) – but in that simple act of making me dinner, he has over delivered on that same promise. 100% + 20%.

Needless to say, I was a great supporter of that bistro and have brought many friends there for dinner thereafter. The formula of “Reasonable Promise and Over Delivery” does not have to be tedious, costly or time-consuming. It just requires a little more heart from the person delivering that service.

Here is a simple but powerful rule: “Always give people more than what they expect to get.” – Nelson Boswell

(Photo Source: A Little Moment Photography)

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