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Monday, May 31, 2010

Service Rant: “Underpromise, Overdeliver.”

Under promise, Over Deliver.

One of the most common business refrains, it often goes by its alias “undercommit, overdeliver”, which is the same thing.

I hear it all the time, as a consumer of various B2B services, as a manager of service businesses working with other service businesses, and as a customer in my personal life.

As a management philosophy that doubles as a service philosophy, I hate it.
At its best, it prevents companies from providing the kind of mind-blowing experiences their people want to. At its worst, it is a major contributor to big-corporate groupthink ruining customer service overall.

Underpsomise / overdeliver originated as a way for managers to advise their reports to manage expectations as an internal CYA, ensuring neither they nor their bosses would ever have to face the embarrassment of a missed commitment - a self-protective, “how to fulfill what is asked without failing / casting a negative light on our silo.”

But it has extended as a way to manage customer relationships, and service promises. External application of the credo is as big a mistake as it is internally.

The problem is that the first part of the equation gets fulfilled. Under committing is easy – it just means that you don’t promise to do as much as you know you’re capable of. But faced with someone not complaining about the level of care they receive, they forget to over deliver. Conserve resources. Get satisfied (lazy) delivering what is “good enough”. Ride the self-created perception of satisfaction rather than putting forth the extra effort to delight & surpass what the customer is expecting.

As they deliver a level of service best described as “tolerable enough not to complain” these providers tout how they “exceed expectations”, when they’re truthfully only exceeding adequacy.

The entire premise of under commit / over deliver has become a source of pervasive mediocrity. It’s why 80% of companies believe they provide an superior service experience, yet only 8% of their customers agree.

The solution:

Invest – time, effort and money – in understanding what the customer expects, and how different that is from what he / she truly desires. Start by committing to no less that what they expect. (it shames me to say that in many cases, businesses commit to less than base expectations) Deliver. Use the learnings to improve. Commit more. Deliver on that promise. Repeat the cycle until you’re delivering in the neighborhood of customer desires, stated or unstated. Maybe even beyond desires.

There are other ways to get there, but undercommitting provides no path to exceptional.


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Qin Han said...

I am sometimes surprised by the lost of honesty in some marketing strategies, it is sad that organisations actually want to trick their customer into a delivery. I can see the psychological support behind this 'underpromise, overdeliver' theory, but really, do we believe this should be the base of a 'relationship'?
I would rather consider empathy, understanding and communication as good service marketing.

Chris Reaburn said...


Thank you so much for your commentary! Of course I agree that "underpromise / overdeliver" is not a solid basis of any relationship - company/customer or interpersonal.

Simply put, the service philosophy should be:

Make a promise. One that is meaningful, and relevant, and that the other party values.

Keep it. (in exhcnage for something you value)

The empathy, understanding & communication you reccomend are vital tools, not only to the making of a promise, but also to its delivery. If the service is good enough to warrant a repeat engagement / if the promise is relevant enough and upheld, and if the value exchange is fair in both parties' perception, then it has a chance to become a relationship.