Managing Expectations: Under Promise and Over Deliver

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Guest Post by Robert Cordray
There’s an old expression, “He who expects little is seldom disappointed.” That’s not a great catchphrase for the customer service department, but it does bring up the topic of managing the expectations of customers and others by “under promising and over delivering”. The premise is simple. Don’t make overblown claims that get a person’s hopes up, only to disappoint them when you can’t deliver.

Instead, make attainable promises that set realistic expectations, and then deliver in a way that exceeds those expectations. The Creole term, “lagniappe” effectively captures the delightful surprise that emanates from that extra morsel of effort or product. That’s a pretty sound philosophy for doing business, and here are five reasons why “under promise and over deliver” is such an important strategy.

Consumers value great service – According to a recent survey by American Express, today’s post recession consumers expect great customer service, and they’re willing to pay for it. In fact, 70 percent of consumers are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more for goods and services with companies that provide excellent customer service. If those statistics don’t motivate organizations to do all they can to exceed expectations and provide a great customer experience, what will?

Customers aren’t getting great service – In the same survey, sixty percent of American consumers believe that businesses are doing little to improve customer service. This leaves the door wide open for businesses to stand out by going the extra mile to give great service. Small businesses appear to be a bright spot, as 81 percent of respondents feel that small businesses are doing a better job of providing good customer service than large businesses. 

Bad customer service is costly – Here’s a sobering statistic. 78 percent of consumers said that poor customer service has caused them to either abandon a transaction or not make a purchase that they had intended to make. But it doesn’t stop there. When consumers have a good customer experience, they tell an average of nine people about it. But when they have a negative experience, they tell twice as many people about it. Add to that the interconnectedness of today’s consumers through various social media platforms, and that could spell big trouble when negative comments go viral. 

Customer service delivers strong ROI – As previously mentioned, consumers are willing to spend more with companies that provide superior service. And consistently “over delivering” on customer service will help build the kind of reputation that attracts new consumers and creates the kind of long-term loyalty and advocacy that is essential for driving solid business growth. Companies willing to invest in whatever talent, training, and tools they need in order to elevate the overall customer experience, will in turn experience a very high ROI. 

Workers prefer to be associated with Excellence – One of the greatest returns on product or service excellence is the attendant boost in morale of the organization’s staff.  People, all of us, want to be associated with a winner, and conversely, we hate being associated with schlock stuff. Employee engagement surveys consistently identify the organization’s reputation for quality as a primary driver of worker engagement.

In order to successfully implement the “under promise and over deliver” strategy, companies need to understand that it has less to do with lowering the bar on the “promise” end, and everything to do with raising the bar on the “deliver” end. After all, no successful business was ever built on a weak promise. Only by offering the best possible promise—a promise that stretches limitations—and then going the extra mile to exceed the consumer’s expectations of that promise, can a company experience the satisfaction and success that comes from, not just meeting, but exceeding its own expectations. 

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