Under Promise, Over Deliver

by Mr. Cheap

I really liked the business principle “under promise and over deliver” from the first time I heard it.  It made total sense to me:  follow through on your commitments and exceed what you said you’d do.  I think this is a good approach to all facets of life, not just running a business.  Your boss asks when you can get a project finished by, you give a date and manage to turn it in 2 days early, perhaps with enough time for some feedback and to create another version.  Your wife wants you to help out more around the house and you commit to walking the dog every morning (and end up putting on coffee and taking out the trash at the same time).

I have, on a  number of occasions, interacted with people who wanted to make me happy while we were talking, so they promise me something that it later turns out there was no chance of them delivering.  The end result was I become MUCH less happy after they’d failed to do what they said they would.  I did some proof reading of an academic paper years ago, and when I showed up for a scheduled editing session, the author would say it wasn’t ready, but to come back in 3 hours or the next day and each time I came back, he needed more time (it happened 4 or 5 times).  I was livid by the end of it.  It would have been absolutely fine if, in the first place, he’d just told me to come back in a week.

Rogers and Bell like to deliberately do the same thing.  They offer a good deal to get you as a customer, then spring a bunch of “hidden” fees and changes to the deal to make it more profitable to them.  I think this is a large part of why people hate both companies.  The deal sounds great when they are trying to get you to sign up, then it stinks when you’re a customer.  They over promise and under deliver and it drives people nuts.

In my opinion, the best way to make a commitment to someone, is to honestly appraise (to yourself) what you’re willing to do for them, then pull back a bit to give yourself a “fudge factor” (quote a slightly longer delivery time, slightly higher cost, slightly lower quality, etc).  If the project takes longer (or is more expensive), you’ll still be able to fit within your original estimate.  If you’re able to complete it on the original estimate, you look like a hero.

On Star Trek, the original series, the chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (“Beam me up Scotty!“) had a reputation as being a miracle worker. As time passes in the series, it comes out that as well as being brilliant, he routinely pads his estimates.

There are other opinions on this.  Basically the counter argument is that it undermines people’s trust if you quote them something then exceed it (they’ll wonder why you didn’t commit to delivering that initially).  There’s also the fear that people will “compensate” if you consistently over deliver and start expecting it.  I don’t find either of these convincing arguments against taking this approach to interactions.  This happened to poor Scotty as Captain Kirk would cut the time allowed for repairs.

What do you think of “under promise, over deliver” as a mantra for “customer” interactions?

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