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Why “Under Promise, Over Deliver” Can Hurt Your Business – And What to Do Instead

Business Builders

Our First Ascent offices are in a hip space right in the heart of Denver. The building is called INDUSTRY because developers converted an old, industrial warehouse into creative office space.

This image captures what’s on the wall across from our First Ascent area: “Under Promise Over Deliver.”

On the surface, the old business adage sounds good. Everybody likes to pleasantly surprise their clients. And it has some business sense to it, such as a built-in contingency.

But it has an obvious flaw: it will only work temporarily.

If you consistently deliver early, or exceed your intentionally low expectations, your clients may begin to expect surprises all the time. Then what happens when you really do need that contingency? It seems like we’re right back where we started.

But it has even a more sinister flaw. However harmless it may seem, creating false deadlines or false expectations can plant a seed of doubt in your clients minds about what you say versus what you do. Your more astute clients may even begin to feel manipulated. Doubt and manipulation are arch-enemies to one of the most important things you have with your clients. Trust.

Maybe there’s a better way.

Say what you mean and mean what you say

Here are three practical ways you might consider:

Talk with your clients openly about the process involved in preparing and delivering your value to them. Create realistic timelines, and then communicate with them throughout the process. If a custodian is taking a long time to transfer assets into a new account, you may consider simply telling your clients what’s going on, and what you are doing to solve it. Some of the best customer experiences I’ve ever had is when someone took it upon themselves to solve my problem.

Prove to your clients that what you say, you do. If you say, “yes,” follow through. If you have to say “no,” then you can explain why. My dad refers to this behavior as, “Modeling the right way and inviting others to join.” Most people, even demanding clients, will respond well if you act in a forthright, transparent, reliable manner.

If you make a mistake, drop the ball, forget to send what you promised, just own it. That goes a long way in righting wrongs. Likewise, if someone else makes a mistake, it is fair to respectfully ask them to make it right. I know I tend to trust people who can admit they made a mistake, and then do what it takes to make it right.

Anything that erodes trust can be detrimental to your practice. It’s not always pleasant, but trust is most often built not when everything is going well, but when something goes wrong, and you go above and beyond to fix it.