Should You Do More Than You Promised?

My friend Allen Hauge pointed me to an interesting article about academic research focused on whether delivering more than you promise was a good business practice. Like many academic studies, the results of this one are questionable. Academics, by their approach, attempt to isolate a single variable and then study its effects. The problem is, in the real world, single variable isolation can be tricky and misleading.

The research concluded that the old adage “under-promise and over-deliver” is a waste. While the research showed that over-delivering had little added value, there are flaws in the research model. Additionally, some things the researchers failed to recognize happen in the real world that their experiment failed to replicate.

Firstly, gaining understanding and agreement on a complex “promise” in the business world can be tough, no matter the effort expended. Therefore over-delivering can help to mitigate the effect of inadvertently over-promising. While not a perfect solution, it may be helpful.

Observational evidence demonstrates that providing a bit more than expected has positive results. Whether it be the “baker’s dozen,” or the Southern tradition of lagniappe, people often appreciate the value of you going a bit further than expected. Cialdini’s research into reciprocity would also seem to refute the research cited in the article.

All that being said, the research makes a couple of good points:

  1. The value of the over-delivery may not be as great as the cost to you; or the value of what you over-deliver on may not be of real value to the customer
  2. Over-delivering in one area will not make up for under-delivery in another

And, the other risk you run is that the over-delivery may become an expectation and no longer seen as over-delivery.

Bottom line: Be great at what your customers care about. As Walt Disney once said (ok he may have said it more than once): “To be successful in business you must be unique. You must be so different that if people want what you have, they must come to you to get it.”



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