Underpromise, Overdeliver

It is often the “little things” that can make or break you.

One of the tenets we try to teach at SHIFT is “Underpromise, Overdeliver.”  There is nothing more frustrating to a client than expecting the moon, because they’ve been told to expect the moon … but getting a slice of green cheese, instead.  Far better for the client to be sold on the moon-like benefits of a green cheese slice … but then being handed the actual g-dmn moon!

This principle applies to all parts of life. For example, our house in California has been empty for a good, long while. We had the genius idea to have the place remodeled while we were still living in Boston.  “We’ll move back to our dream home!”  The contractor agreed time-and-again, all along the way, that he’d be all finished up in time… Fast forward to today: we are still a couple of weeks out from completion. Now, despite the fact that we love all the work that’s been done, we’re still upset. Every subcontractor that walks in the door is a reminder that he shoulda been done with XYZ project weeks ago; why is he still here, why is any one of ‘em still here, still not done?

I won’t bore you with the details of the situation or how we’re handling it… it just occurred to me that “I would never run my business this way,” which led me to remember that we quite specifically talk about this “Underpromise, Overdeliver” concept in our training at the agency.  That is not to say that there are never disappointments, or that sometimes we don’t get overeager about an idea that ultimately doesn’t zing like we’d hoped. It just means we try to plan for failure, to adjust for it, and to make up for it when possible.  The goal is “surprise and delight” vs. “overpromise and underdeliver.”

The gulf between a “wow” and a “sigh” is not easily bridged.

Posted on: July 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm By Todd Defren
7 Responses to “Underpromise, Overdeliver”


  • Courtney says:

    I think this is definitely a very important principle to keep in mind. I would so much rather have someone impressed with an good outcome that exceed their expectations than have someone disappointed with the exact same outcome, but in this case I had built up too high.

  • I loved this: “The goal is “surprise and delight” vs. “overpromise and underdeliver.” Very nice post here. Really got a lot of perspective from this. Thanks for your insights.

  • Aime O'Keefe says:

    It can be so difficult to correct a client’s expectations once they get the ball rolling and their ideas have them assuming the wildest results. It’s always a good practice to set up the client for satisfaction and then over deliver.
    According to the Expectation Confirmation Theory by R.L. Oliver in1980, a performance equal to expectations does not lead to customer satisfaction. Oliver said expectations must be surpassed in order to achieve true satisfaction.

    Writer for Platform Magazine

  • Marie says:

    Agreed! Its amazing how so many do not deliver the common courtesy and go beyond our expectations. Its rare to see an extraordinary person over deliver!

  • Brad says:

    I always try to provide clients with a realistic expectation of what to can be done, but then work as hard as possible to provide them with 10 times the value any of my competitors could. It’s a great way to retain clients and it really forces me to improve every day.

  • Tommy says:

    Hi Todd.

    Great article.
    I always try to overdeliver to my own customers – even small bonus can score you amazing review from customer.
    And what is the value of unexpected review from random customer?
    What is the value of customer spreading word about your business and referring you to friends?
    One small bonus can rake much more than advertising.
    One small addition or bonus will cost you peanuts, but can make you coconuts ;)

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