Under-Promise and Over-Deliver; if you’ve ever worked in a service industry before, you’ve undoubtedly heard that phrase. As defined by McGraw-Hill, “under promise and over deliver” is a service strategy in which service providers strive for excellent customer service and satisfaction by doing more than they say they will for the customer or exceeding customer expectations.

This is usually the benchmark for most service industries for a variety of reasons. In theory, it’s awesome and makes total sense. There are however, a few drawbacks with this strategy. Four reasons in particular come to mind.

Those Who Promise Big and Under-Deliver, Ruin It for the Rest

If I were to ask you about the organizations that have promised big and delivered small, you probably couldn’t count them because there would be so many. I believe that there are plenty of organizations that have built their entire sales model on the idea of promising big, knowing that the delivery will not come close to what they have promised. Unfortunately, these false-promises are often masked in what is now being called “potential benefits”.

Potential benefits” of a service is sort of silly when you think about it. You could almost say anything you wanted to under the guise of “potential benefits”. I could potentially get my dream job, meet my dream mate, have the perfect family and retire comfortably if I just sign my name using this brand new pen… to the right set of contracts. Probably won’t happen… but WOW… what an awesome pen!

I get it! Nobody is going to sell you anything when they don’t appeal to your emotional side. It’s the promise of making your life better or fixing your problem that moves us too many times. It’s just frustrating because when a solid service, backed by a solid service provider, attempts to Under-Promise and Over-Deliver, it can be difficult to market themselves properly against potential competitors that are screaming from the rooftops about promises they will never be able to keep.

Over-Deliver Requires Customers to Promote You

Under-promise” often requires less to be said about a product or service. In reality, it’s more of a “put up or shut up” model. Sometimes that’s not too exciting to sell and sometimes it’s very difficult to do. Some services require quite a bit of education. Take what I do for instance. Leadership Development? How many people really know what that is? Not many. So I have to spend extra time trying to explain it and hoping my clients are impressed enough to share their experiences.

Or if you aim to provide more than your competitors do from the start, then the over-deliver part can become pricey and sometimes cost-prohibitive. You can only give away so much before you become a charity rather than a business. Ultimately, ensuring that you can give away some stuff requires your current customers and clients to become your advocates and salespeople. Unfortunately, customers cannot be a front-line sales tactic to rely on. This is because advocacy takes time, effort and a considerable amount of customer education to be effective. In reality, advocacy often requires years of consistency and brand awareness; something new business owners simply don’t have.

Nice Guys Finish Last

Unfortunately, it’s true! Sometimes nice people do finish last. Well, over-delivering can be a nice thing to do. So is giving a ton of extras! How many times have you given someone something just to send them away smiling, only to find that they were unappreciative? Are you getting a referral or review from that person? Think about it like this: how many times have YOU told more than five people about some extra freebie you got during a business transaction? See what I mean? It’s a horrible business strategy. Even when they say “Tell your friends!”, and you say “I sure will! Thank you!” You don’t.

There have been times when I’ve gone out of my way to offer extras to my clients or potential clients with the clear understanding that I wanted a review or referral in exchange, only to be let down – time and time again. That costs money. If you’ve done this too, we might as well just open up the window and toss out a few bucks each time we consider doing it.

I can provide a great example of this. On more than one occasion, I have had people ask me for a free copy of one of my books. Wanting to share and over-deliver and wanting to be a nice guy, I would say specifically that not only would I provide them with a copy, I would go ahead and provide them a free – SIGNED copy, with a book-mark, a t-shirt, etc.,etc., in exchange for a simple review and a speedy completion. They have always agreed. Unfortunately, only a tiny fraction have ever really followed through. When called out, it’s always “I haven’t finished it yet” or “Man, I haven’t had time to even start.” Well, that’s fine but that’s not what we agreed on.

Now, I’m sure the free stuff is appreciated but the obligation of reviews, advocacy and referrals is quickly forgotten. The long-term cost is substantial and the entire purpose of the exchange is missed. Of course, if they didn’t take the time to read the work, the point of the exchange was missed altogether anyway. So in my attempts to over-deliver, I have often hurt myself financially, hoping that those I that I have tried to help would help me. More often than not, I am let down by this attempt.

The Worst Part…

The worst part of this whole thing is that there is nothing I can do about the fact that I know that I’m still going to be the nice guy and still want to provide my clients and friends with the best experience they can get. They are still going to walk away feeling that they got a better deal than they had hoped for and I’m still going to hope that my efforts are recommended and reviewed by my clients – even when they forget that their advocacy is what drives my business in an age when marketing efforts are often ad-blocked. I’m still going to try because it’s the right thing to do. I’m still going to provide extras because my reputation is on the line. I’m still going to give my all because I want my brand to always be associated with quality and excellent customer service.

The Under-Promise and Over-Deliver model sucks for sure. It’s a repetitive let-down and constant frustration that somehow mysteriously works in the long-run; if you can be patient and wait it out; if you can be consistent and if you constantly remind your customers about the importance of being your advocate. But yeah… that’s a lot of “if”.

Now, I’m not saying that the Under-Promise and Over-Deliver model isn’t the right thing to do, because I believe that it is. I’m just saying it really sucks because customers often don’t realize their role or just how important that role really is. The fact that we live in a self-absorbed society only makes it worse. It’s ironic really. If you want to see the power of a customer’s voice in action, be a small business owner and mess up in the slightest – because EVERYONE is going to hear about that! Imagine if that power was used for good. How many small businesses could be saved?