Under Promise, Over Deliver – Key to Business Success


Do you remember the time when you were pleasantly surprised to get more than you had expected from a business? How about the time when you were annoyed when you didn’t get what business had promised? It’s interesting how we remember outcomes that have turned out better than or worse than our expectations, but not the ones that came out as promised! Businesses who understand this simple fact stand to benefit by delighting their customers. This is the commonly known principle of “Under Promise and Over Deliver”.

The principle of under promise and over deliver is about managing customer expectations. No business owner in his right mind wants to do a bad job in serving his customers. However, we all know that things do not always turn out exactly as we hope when it comes meeting their expectations. By keeping some buffer in terms of under promise you avoid ticking off your customers when things go wrong. Even more important is the fact that customers who are pleasantly surprised with positive experience with your business will keep coming back to your business day after day.

In the previous post, I mentioned that small business owners can improve sales by keeping the promises they make to their customers. The relationship between the business and the customer is analogous to a bank account. Every time you exceed customer expectation you make a deposit to the account, and every broken promise withdraws from it. When you withdraw more than you have deposited you run the risk of bankruptcy in terms of losing customers. Under promising and over delivering helps you maintain healthy balance in your bank account.

As I had mentioned in the previous post businesses make promises to customers in two ways – explicit promises in terms of advertised price, quality, delivery, etc. and implicit promises in terms of everyday transactions with customers. Implicit promises are made without even you realizing that you are making them. It is with the explicit promises that the principle of under promise helps you delight your customers.

There are number of ways in which you can apply this principle. Setting the price of a product or service too low can put you in trouble when, in the future, you are forced to raise the price. Instead setting the price at a reasonable level and providing one time discount will make your customers happy. The struggle that J.C. Penney is going through with their everyday low price business model is a good reminder that customers love their coupons and discounts. When promising the delivery of a product to customer it is good to keep 1-2 days buffer and delight them with early delivery rather than making them call you when the product does not reach at a promised time. I am always amazed at how Amazon manages to deliver my orders ahead of their initial promised time.

Let me make one thing clear. When I say under promise I am not suggesting that you set the bar low. This may not even get you past the first door. Instead, what I am suggesting is to understand what you are capable of delivering and promising just below that. There is a big difference between promising under and promising low!
What do you think? Care to share your experience with others?

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  • http://www.wizardtechconsulting.com/ Vanessa

    “Under Promise Over Deliver” should always be the mantra of every small business owner marketing their products and services. Remember customers are the lifeblood of the company, so you should always strive not to disappoint them.

  • http://www.bizsugar.com Heather Stone

    What a great reminder that satisfying customers has a lot to do with managing expectations. It’s something many businesses forget especially in the beginning when struggling to get those first accounts.

  • http://www.cleaning-4-profit.com Tom Watson

    WOW… You are spot on! I loved the article, and have been spreading the gospel of that approach for some time. For me, I’m in the service business (janitorial and carpet cleaning). For example, for a carpet cleaning service request we exceed expectations by being on-time, not “crowding the doorway” when knocking on the door, having name tags visible, asking for permission to enter a home, placing booties on our feet so we don’t dirty their carpet etc… Then we always try to clean something for free, such as a small area rug or doorway mat. These are all little “moments of truth” where you go beyond what other companies do, thus building up a series of “positives” that the customer notices. It’s different for each type of business, but you are right, you must exceed expectations.

    • SmallBizViewpoints

      Tom – You are taking the right approach. I am sure every one of your customers is very satisfied. I wish more of small business owners would think and act like you. It would make their task of competing with big boys lot more easier because this is really the point of differentiation for them.

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