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"Few business truisms are as popular as 'under promise and over deliver,' but should this oft-repeated bit of advice join the growing list of business tips you should ignore no matter how many times you hear them?"
Jessica Stillman for Inc.

In a word, yes. Throw out "under promise and over deliver" like the irrelevant, outdated rubbish it is. Disregard it as decisively as you would other nonsensical and ill-conceived advice, such as: Just follow your heart or You can do anything you dream or Be yourself. Like these platitudes, under promise and over deliver only sets your organization - and, more importantly, you - up for failure.

Amazon: A Cautionary Tale

But doesn't under promising and over delivering set you up for success? After all, if you exceed expectations, it's a pleasant surprise for your customers or employees. To be clear, it's not under promising that's the problem; it's over delivering. Take Amazon for example.
They have built their customer service platform on over delivering. Say you order a package that is supposed to arrive on Wednesday. If the delivery person shows up late on Friday, you're going to be disappointed. You are going to feel betrayed.

Doesn't it follow, then, that if the package arrives early on Tuesday, you're going to be happier and more satisfied than if it came on the expected day? No. Here's what over delivering gets you: a whole lot of ingratitude. Dr. Ayelet Gneezy of the University of California, San Diego confirmed this with several experiments.

In one, she paired study participants, assigning one as "promise-maker" and the other as "promise-receiver." The promise-receiver had to solve 40 puzzles and would be paid for each one completed correctly. The promise-maker promised to help with 10 puzzles.

The researchers told the promise-makers to solve 10, 5, or 15. Again, it would seem to follow that the ones who helped with 15 would be thanked profusely and appreciated for their extra effort. And again, you'd be wrong. Dr. Gneezy says, "I was surprised that exceeding a promise produced so little meaningful increase in gratitude or appreciation." There was "almost no gain from exceeding a promise whatsoever."

The takeaway: giving your customers or employees more doesn't get you more. Don't waste your time, resources, or effort on over delivering.

The Sweet Spot

The research is clear: people don't like when you break promises - they also really don't care when you exceed them. Finding the sweet spot of customer service or employee relationships is critical. Under promise, and just barely deliver.

Take Chipotle, for example. After the 2016 E. coli outbreak in the fast casual chain, the dangers of over delivering with "healthy," "safe" food became abundantly clear.

Instead, the message they should send to customers is: "Eat at Chipotle, and we promise that you probably won't experience excruciating pain in your abdomen, extreme fatigue, nausea, or acute digestive issues. Anymore." If you feel ok after eating your burrito or experience some bloating or discomfort after devouring your tacos, that is well within the parameters of the promise. Under promise, barely deliver: nailed it.

If you believe you should under promise and over deliver, you should probably just follow your heart and be yourself. See how far that gets you. Probably a lot farther than this article.


Larry Hart

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