You are currently viewing Is “Underpromise, Overdeliver” a Good Business Strategy?

In recent years, Apple has been portrayed as a company that makes incremental and often underwhelming changes to its product lines. Every year, when a new iPhone or gadget is released, they give very little detail about the product’s newest features. They were criticized for the first iPad’s release (who would need an iPad if they already have a phone and laptop?), but its release more than doubled the expected sales. And with every new iPhone, customers flock to the stores to get the latest in Apple’s technology.

Apple itself has become a lifestyle brand because of its underpromise and overdeliver marketing strategies, which have some merit. While they may receive some negative feedback in the beginning, it usually ends up exceeding the hype about the product once it’s released. Plus, they don’t give too much away to competitors who are trying to copy Apple’s innovation. But does it work for everyone?

This is different in the service industries. With service-based businesses, your customer can’t directly compare the quality of your offer until after it is received. If you underpromise, they may opt for a competitor who promises to deliver better service, not knowing you plan to exceed your promises. Consumers can compare you to hundreds of other services, both in your local area and among digital services. Why sell yourself short when the customer thinks they can get more elsewhere?

It works differently depending on the service you’re providing. For example, if you provide auto repair services, most people will just expect you to get the job done. If you give them a tune-up or finish the repairs sooner than expected, they will be thrilled and likely become repeat customers. However, if you’re trying to sell business consultation or coaching services, clients will be more have higher expectations. You need to emphasize the value you provide, as these services are less easy to prove results.

If your service gives immediate satisfaction, and the results are easy to see and compare, “underpromise and overdeliver,” is a good thing to strive for. If your services are more about the client’s quality of life or improvement, you want to tell them exactly what you’re getting. You also don’t want to exceed the scope of the project for which you’re paid. Many businesses run into this problem when they try to underpromise and overdeliver. They end up taking out billed services and adding them as “bonuses,” when they should be paid.

Studies from EurekAlert! show that overdelivering services often don’t change their satisfaction after a service is completed—at least not enough to justify this business principle. Customers just want you to do the job right. The nominal degree of satisfaction a customer receives from getting more than what they paid for isn’t worth potentially losing them or underpricing your services.

The best business mantra for excellent customer service is to always deliver on what you promise, and do so with the intent to help them to the best of your ability. If you do that, you should have no doubt as to what you and your company stand for.

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