“Under-promise and over-deliver”. Really?!

July 30, 2015

We’ve all heard the customer service adage of “under-promise and over-deliver”. Imagine you are your client for one moment. Would you rather get what you briefed your agency for, and what you agreed to, or be “under-promised”? Would you rather get what you expect in order to satisfy your business need, or be “over-delivered”?

Neither “under-promising”, nor “over-delivering”, are particularly sensible ways of conducting business, and neither are required in order to deliver great customer satisfaction.

Here’s a typical “under-promise-over-deliver” scenario. It’s Monday and you have been given an urgent and unexpected design job that needs to be printed and delivered by Wednesday. You tell your client that the printing press is booked solid, and it’s going to be tough to make the deadline. It may be that you will need to deliver Thursday morning instead of Wednesday (the “under-promise”), but that you will do what you can. In the back of your mind you know that your printer can probably juggle the jobs on the press to squeeze in your urgent print run. You may also need to work late to finish the design, but you’re quietly confident the deadline can be achieved.

You end up delivering on the Tuesday afternoon (the “over-deliver”). Your client says, “Hey, that’s great, I really appreciate it!” Job done. However, did you really need to (a) give your client cause for concern that the job may not be ready in time; or (b) deliver early? Early delivery is awesome if you can do it without putting your team under any undue pressure, but does your client really care all that much? What they wanted was the job delivered by Wednesday and if you had delivered on Wednesday they still would have called you a superstar.

What do you think your client really wants from a business transaction with your agency? He (or she) wants his work delivered on time, on budget, as briefed and without hassle. He wants service with a smile, excellent communication, ‘nailed-it’ design and your expertise. If you can maintain “Customer Care 101″, time-after-time, you won’t need to “over-deliver”. Retaining customers and keeping them happy is a relatively simple task as long as the basics are maintained.

There will be certain times when over-delivering can be advantageous. If, as a result of over-delivering, you can give your client more time, money or power, then by all means – go ahead! If there is obvious material gain to be made by your client, then your above-and-beyond service will be seen in a completely different light.

As for “under-promising”… well, that’s over to you and the given situation. In some cases it’s not a particularly honest method of doing business. I prefer to use the word “transparency“. If you are open and honest with a client, and educate them on the realities of design and production processes, then under-promising shouldn’t be required. By being transparent and honest your client will grow to trust you. Trust leads to increased business, which – in turn – leads to increased profit. Taking this type of high ground isn’t always easy or convenient, but it works.

What are your experiences of under-promising and/or over-delivering?


This article first appeared on the Design Assembly website, 30 July 2015.



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