Is it time to ditch the under promise and over deliver mantra?

If you constantly deliver projects ahead of time, do you get the payback from customers that you’ve been lead to believe? Research shows the answer may be no.

By Henry Brown

In a small business, you are told time and time again that is important to under promise and over deliver. It has been preached over and over until now it seems to be part and parcel of running a small business. However, it is time to challenge that expression and take a look at what doing that really might mean for freelancers solopreneurs or small businesses?

It goes back to providing customer service, but not just any customer service, outstanding, exceptional, and highly memorable customer service. The type that you could have plaques above the door to let people know how great the customer service really is.

Providing excellent customer service means that you’re more likely to gain the trust and loyalty of people very early on. Or maybe through wanting to impress and hopefully retain your clients, you finish your projects early, you provide extra assets or go above and beyond what is set out in your contract. You give more.

Losing the wow factor

But what are you getting in return? The payment you agreed upon, sure, and potentially a nice thank you. But, the client would stay if the work itself were up to standard, regardless of whether you delivered early, or threw in a few extras.

[amazon_link asins=’1119227828′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingin-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7ffa8e7a-4d41-11e8-acb0-5d634cb23db1′]So, say you retained those clients, who now expect that you can deliver your work faster. So the next contract reflects that, but the pay is the same because that is the standard you set – for yourself. Now you are in the position that you have to discuss the turnaround time or the price that you have agreed upon.

And now? You have lost the initial over-delivery ‘wow factor’ and you have now set a standard that may have difficult to maintain over the long haul.

So what is the alternative to this? Very simply it is making promises on work, quality, and deadlines that you can deliver. If you happen to be able to supply the work early due to external factors, then when you hand over the world let the client know there were other factors at play so that they know that such early deliveries won’t necessarily occur in the future.

Your effort may not be valued

Although you might assume that generosity and ‘extras’ might be something that might be highly valued – it isn’t always, so you might find that you are wasting a lot of your valuable time on people that might not appreciate it as much as you’d like.

A study in UC San Diego by a behavioral scientist Ayelet Gneezy and business professor Nicholas Epley found that it simply doesn’t pay. Epley said that “Going above and beyond a promise didn’t seem to be valued at all,” and further to that “I was surprised that exceeding a promise produced so little meaningful increase in gratitude or appreciation. I had anticipated a modest positive effect.”

In the end, excellent communication, good work ethic, and delivering work on time and of a high quality will retain customers and build a robust reputation. There is nothing wrong with throwing in a little extra from time to time. But in any small business, your time is money, and using that precious time to go above and beyond on every single project may not be paying the dividends you believe it does.

So what do you think? Is it time that small businesses paid more attention to margins and less attention to going above and beyond?


Henry Brown is an online marketing executive. When he isn’t talking shop he’s roaming the streets of London, uncovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.



Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover