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What does It Mean to Under Promise and over Deliver?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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When someone under promises and over delivers, it means that he or she sets the bar low and then exceeds that bar. In a simple example, a delivery company might promise that something will be dropped off by noon, setting the bar, and then tell the driver to make sure that the object is delivered by ten in the morning, thereby exceeding the expectations of the customer. The idea behind this concept is that, by keeping customer expectations low and routinely exceeding them, an individual or company will develop a good reputation.

When someone makes ambitious claims and promises and then fails to live up to them, customers tend to grow irritated, feeling that false advertisements were made. Routinely failing to live up to expectations can make a company look bad, especially when the company itself sets those expectations. Products that are routinely delivered late, projects that are never completed, and deadlines that are never met are a great way to infuriate customers. One way to avoid this problem is to under promise and over deliver.

If, on the other hand, a company makes a promise that is understated, taking all of the factors of the situation into account, and then delivers early or above expectations, customers are left with a good feeling. To do this, a company usually thinks about the task or project at hand, estimates the time in which it can be reasonably completed, and then adds some time to the estimate given to the customer. For example, a business might say that a project will be complete by Friday when it could be finished on Wednesday.

When a company decides to under promise and over deliver, there are a number of advantages. The first is that, when they deliver the finished product early, it pleases the customer, and the customer will speak well of the company in the future. Secondly, in the event that there is a problem or hiccup in the process, the company has a built in buffer, and it doesn't need to panic. In the example above, it might not be able to deliver by its internal target date of Wednesday, but the consumer will definitely get the project by Friday and never be the wiser.

Companies may be encouraged to promise less and deliver more to retain customers and increase customer satisfaction. Those that do also need to be careful about taking this approach, however. It's important to set internal goals that are more demanding than the goals given to customers, and to stick with those.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By icecream17 — On Apr 09, 2011

@Subway11-I think that is so nice. I went to a salon and I have to say that the stylist over delivered because he exceeded my expectations. His performance was so good with respect to the way that he cut my hair that I will return immediately in 7 weeks for a trim.

I will never have anyone else cut my hair. This is similar to when you go to a great restaurant or have a wonderful experience because of the skill of the person that was serving you.

You can’t wait to tell others and will return because you expected to receive average service but didn’t.

It is also similar to when you read a book by an author and love the book so much that you seek out more titles from the same author. You have such an image of quality in your mind that you will remain loyal.

By subway11 — On Apr 08, 2011

I know what you mean. My kid’s pediatrician is the same. I think that companies overdeliver by offering more personalized service.

For example, there is a handbag store that always remembers my birthday and sends me a gift certificate for $20 towards any purchase of my choice. This is really nice because I totally did not expect to receive such personalized service like that.

It was nice to be singled out on my birthday. I know that a lot of companies are trying to set up rewards programs in order to use their database so that they can reward customers that have been loyal.

This makes customers want to shop at the store because of the established relationship. This is a great way to overdeliver.

By sneakers41 — On Apr 07, 2011

@GreenWeaver - I totally agree with you. This happens to me when I get an oil change. The shop will quote me 45 minutes to one hour and they always finish in 30 minutes.

It seems like by the time I sit down it is time to go. I just wish that more doctors would use this concept because every time that I take my children for a doctor’s appointment they seem to take forever.

I usually get called on my child’s appointment time and a nurse attends to them, but then I usually have to wait an additional 15 to 20 minutes to actually see the doctor and the doctor visit usually only lasts about 5 minutes.

By GreenWeaver — On Apr 04, 2011

@Anon163193 - Good for you. I think that it is smart when a business under promises and over delivers because a customer will always be pleasantly surprised.

Restaurants do this a lot when they quote you a wait time. If you quote you a wait time of 30 to 40 minutes, but actually seat you in 20 minutes then you feel that the wait was not that long and you begin to feel good about the service.

However, if a restaurant does the opposite and quotes you a timeframe of 15 to 20 minutes but actually seats you at 30 minutes you will be a little annoyed and your customer service experience begins on a wrong note.

I think that this happens at theme parks too. I have seen signs that have a posted wait time of 30 minutes and then I go through the line in 15 minutes. I think that this is a great strategy in order to improve the customer experience because I was so happy that it did not take me that long to go through the line.

By anon163193 — On Mar 26, 2011

I call myself a mini entrepreneur. Highs but mostly Lows has taught me a lot. This concept is always part of my highs as I know my clients are well satisfied if I am. It also gives my j.o.b. meaning. I never have to follow up as I always provide more than I promise.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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