Customer Service Success = Under-promise and Over-deliver

I was listening to the “Mike and Mike Show” on ESPN radio on the way to work one morning when I heard Mike Greenberg utter a familiar phrase for those of us in the sales arena, “Under-promise and over-deliver.” Even if you’re not in sales you might have heard the phrase before. What you may not understand is why it works so well.

Under promising and over delivering helps make happy customers because you set expectations you should be able to deliver on and that’s the key. For example, does it bother you when you call a customer service number and hear, “Your call is very important to us and will be answered in the order it was received. Right now your estimated wait is five minutes,” and the wait ends up being seven or eight minutes? I know it bugs me.

How do you feel when this happens, “Your call is very important to us and will be answered in the order it was received. Right now your estimated wait is ten minutes,” and the wait ends up being seven or eight minutes? If you’re like most people you feel pretty good…or at least better than you did in the first scenario.

Why is this so? It’s simple. In one case the expectation wasn’t met but in the other it was exceeded. It didn’t matter that in both cases the actual wait time was the same. This is a classic case of “compared to what?” which derives its power from something know as the contrast phenomenon in the study of influence. What we compare something to can make all the difference in our experience.

Most people make the mistake of over promising and then under delivering. For example, a company wants to get a new order and they bid too low only to come back later and raise their price…or try to raise it and anger the customer. They may have gotten the contract but an upset customer will talk to a lot more friends than a happy one so it ends up hurting business in the long run.

Here’s something most of us face on occasion – time away from the office.  When we leave the office we change our voicemail and turn on the out of office message to alert people that we’re away. When I take family time I clearly tell people I won’t be checking voicemail or email but when it’s not family time that’s different. If I’m traveling for business I’m still more difficult to reach so I might us a message that incorporates something like this:

“While I’m away my access to voicemail and email will be limited. I’ll do my best to reach you while I’m traveling but it might be Monday before you hear from me.”

We live in an almost fully wired world where people expect 24×7 communication unless we set a different expectation. When people call or email they’re not thinking about how busy we might be unless we let them in on that fact. My message doesn’t promise the other person will hear from me but when they do I usually get a response along these lines, “Hey, thanks for getting back to me. I know you’re out so I wasn’t expecting to hear from you till Monday.” Do you think they’re happy? You bet they are because I exceeded their expectation. I under promised and over delivered.

I say this often; understanding persuasion isn’t a magic wand that will get you what you want every time. And let me add to that there are always exceptions to the rule. Sometimes there’s the difficult customer who doesn’t care what you’re doing because they want an answer now. For folks like that I always make sure to include in my message a way to reach a real live person in my absence so they can get immediate help when needed.

I love what I do and the company I work for – State Auto Insurance – but I’m not an employee 24×7, nor is work the most important thing in life. I have parameters in my life and to remind me of that my personal mission statement concludes with this – I work to live, I don’t live to work. I’ll never sacrifice my faith, family or personal well being at the expense of my career.

So let me encourage you; set the parameters on whatever you do and remember that under promising and over delivering is the better strategy to take because the science tells us so.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
1 reply
  1. Christian Fanetti
    Christian Fanetti says:

    Why do you think most people over promise? One would assume it is due to a lack of confidence in their value proposition.. To further, helping someone overcome this dilemma would need to be more than a onetime Magic Wand voicemail update. They might been to do some self-reflecting and education on themselves and/or their product value offering. I have found in my short sales and sales management life, that most young persons do this because they lack the product and customer knowledge. So they over promise to compensate. Some of them can handle the increased stress from over promising for a while, but almost all get caught up. My answers so far have been Education and Confidence to solve the Over Promise dilemma…


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