Underpromise and Overdeliver

Do you know this feeling when you ordered food and it says “40 minutes till delivery”? And you are starving already? What if it takes 50 minutes before you get it? You probably watch the clock and can’t wait for it. And you will not be overly happy to give a tip, right?

But what if the food already arrives after 30 minutes? Will you be happy about that? Have a positive impression of the service? Be happy to give a tip? Probably yes.

This is the concept of underpromise and overdeliver. And it is a very simple, but powerful concept to keeping your customers happy and wow-ing them.


Expectations matter – believe it or not

Whenever you promise somebody to do something, you set an expectation. Whether you are aware of it or not, you set an expectation.

Your word is your bond in business and in life. People don’t judge you by your words but by your actions. You can make promises as much as you want. But how you deliver on your promises is what really matters.

Think of it that way: Not keeping your word damages your reputation and the trust people put in you more than any positive action you do to limit the damage.


Setting expectations to underpromise and overdeliver

Knowing that your promises must be kept, start rethinking the way you communicate to business partners, clients and suppliers.

Instead of being overly positive when communicating a commitment, scrutinize carefully what you are able to deliver.

Most people make a big mistake when estimating timelines because they look at the best case all the time. Ask yourself: How many times did the best case really happen?

You need to start planning in buffer times. Think about:

  • How often are you interrupted when trying to work focused on a topic?
  • Do you get a lot of ad-hoc requests and if yes, how many do you face in a day or a week?
  • How much time do you need to invest because you get diverted from what you originally wanted to do?

This is the baseline of even being able to underpromise and overdeliver.


Setting the right baseline

Some of you might ask yourself right now: But how do I know all of these things?

And the answer is pretty easy: You need to measure it!

If you don’t know how often you get distracted or how much time you originally estimated versus what you really needed at the end, you need to start tracking what you do.

Track your original estimation and then measure against this. And then review why your original estimation was incorrect, by how much it was incorrect and whether there is something that you can fix or whether you just have to correct your estimation.

Over time, you will be able to estimate the required time better and make more accurate estimations.


How to Overdeliver

Once you know how long an activity takes, the second part of the equation to underpromise and overdeliver – the overdelivering part – is to communicate the right things to your partners, clients and suppliers. Because delivering the job on time will not cause excitement.

When you deliver what you said you will do, nobody will be wow’ed! They expected you to do this! Therefore, you need to deliver faster and better than you said you would do.

So, how do you do this? You add time to your original estimation – on the one hand to account for any unforeseeable issues. On the other hand, to be able to deliver earlier. Delivering early causes people to be wow’ed!

As you can see, the secret is not to deliver magic. The secret is setting the right expectations and overdelivering against this expectation.


An example how to manage expectations and monetize this

A great example of a company that built their entire business on overdelivering is Amazon. When Amazon started, they quoted delivery times of 1-2 weeks. When the packages were delivered suddenly after 2 days, it was amazing! No other company did this at that time.

Even today, you may receive messages of Amazon saying: “Your package may be delayed by 2 days due to weather conditions.” But then the next day it is still there. They created an expectation of “Sorry, it may be delayed” and then again, they overdelivered. And if the package was really delayed, at least I was informed about it. So that least I was not disappointed, because they delivered as announced. And therefore, met my expectations.

That’s how you can use setting the right expectations and delivering on it to build a loyal customer base that keeps coming back.


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