Last week I received a comment from Tracie Fowler about my May 10 post, You Won't Get Referrals If There's Nothing To Talk About. Tracie brought up a great question about going above and beyond for customers:
question about this is …. By going above and beyond, am I setting an
unrealistic expectation for the customer? I have found that when I do
things like this (personally deliver to a customer after the order
deadline has passed) they expect it every time and ignore order cut
offs. If I set this type of expectation with each customer, the demand
will be more than I can deliver on. This appears to be setting myself up
for failure and is a balance I am currently struggling with. I innately
want to go above and beyond but seem to be collecting customers who
need special service every time and don't see how that will scale as my
It's a quandary, isn't it? In order to deliver unexpected WOW service, we have to go beyond what we promise and what they're expecting! And then what happens? What may have been unexpected THIS time is now expected NEXT time.
Think about the first time you checked into a hotel and found a coffee maker in your room. It was pretty cool at the time, right? Now, if you check in to any hotel and don't find a coffee maker, you immediately think less of that property. That's the problem with customers. They practice the Law of Increasing Expectations. Every time they receive some type of bonus from a supplier, the future bar of expectation automatically goes up.
We've heard for years from well-meaning authors, speakers, and consultants that for us to succeed, we must out deliver our competition. This makes sense, of course, except many also recommend we Over Promise, as well. But as Tracie points out, this can create a big problem and maybe even set yourself up for failure. What do you do? Let me offer a couple of suggestions and then a reality check.
First, it's critically important that you manage your customers' expectations. As Tracie points out, "I have
found that when I do
things like this (personally deliver to a customer after the order
deadline has passed) they expect it every time…" If we don't manage that situation, then we are allowing the customer to determine what their expectations will be. As I pointed out in my response to Tracie, when she does go above and beyond, she should clearly explain to the customer that is what she's doing…and it's an exception, not something to be expected again in the future.
Second, I'm going to recommend a policy that goes against the grain of many business gurus — Under Promise & then Over Deliver. I'm not saying to game the system by promising inferior products or services and then simply delivering "good enough" to make it look like you've over delivered. Obviously, you are in a competitive environment and you also want to build transparent, trusting relationships with your customers. But don't promise the moon, if it's hard to actually do. Not only are you making it hard to meet expectations, but you're making it it pretty much impossible to exceed them. (BTW, if you DON'T want to build transparent, trusting relationships with your customers, I would appreciate if you would unsubscribe from my emails.)
Now the reality check. We cannot completely avoid the Law of Increasing Expectations. It's a fact of life. Think about yourself as a customer (Two Hat Marketing!). Do YOU expect less from suppliers and vendors? No, of course not. When you get an unexpected WOW, your bar of expectation automatically rises next time. You are a demanding customer who continually asks for and expects more bang for your buck. Your customers are no different.
If you Over Promise, you are setting yourself up for failure.
If you allow customers to set their own expectations, you are setting yourself up for failure.
I know this is a difficult balancing act, but guess what? That's the way it is. That's business. You just want to control the situation as best as you can.
So repeat after me, "I will manage my customers expectations. I will Under Promise and then Over Deliver. I will do my best to manage the Law of Increasing Expectations."
Does this really work? Sure it does. I promise.
I love the idea of under promising and over delivering – no matter which side of the counter I’m on. If I’m on the business side, I love knowing that I’m over delivering on an expectation… and if I’m on the customer side, I love to be pleasantly surprised.
I’m not sure if Steve will agree (and hopefully he doesn’t “unsubscribe” me from his email list), but I think this point could also be balanced with a little “80/20” thinking. You know, that theory that 80% of your business actually comes from about 20% of your customers. If you have the ability to go above and beyond… but not for all of your customers, you may need to prioritize them and choose when to really over deliver and when to perhaps only meet expectations. If you are talking about that customer (or target demographic) that provides you with 80% of your income… maybe it is worth it to figure out how to really WOW them. However, if it is that guy that places the minimum order twice a year… maybe it is ok to only meet his expectations??
This is a never ending struggle with seasonal distribution companies. We endeavor to provide high quality service in a timely manner. Our position is that our sales person must be kept notified of any disruptions in our service so they can call the customer to provide pertinent information on when delivery can be expected. By keeping all hands in the loop we head off most troubles. That doesn’t mean we do not mess up at times. However because we try to keep our customers informed we do not have many blow-ups.
We have a strong policy of when orders must be in to meet shipping demands. If a customer wants expedited service they know there is a appropriate charge for that effort.
I totally agree with this concept. There is nothing more frustrating than ordering something for a customer, and then having to explain to that customer that because our vendor did not fulfill him promise the order will be late. It looks like we’re making excuses, and this is very typical across the manufacturing industry. We have a 3 day promise to get parts in, coated, and back out to our customers, but strive to do every job in a day. That is not always possible, which is why we don’t promise 1 day guaranteed delivery. If we are late by our standards, the customer still thinks we are on time, and if we meet our standards the customer is amazed and grateful because he now looks good to his customer. You are right on this time Steve!
I believe in the “Scotty” method. Promise something will be completed by a specific date and then have the customers project completed ahead of the promised time. It does excite my customers that their project is completed ahead of time.
I tested out the expectation theory about 2 years ago by giving a small gift (created from my scrap material) to my customers when they received their project, and that actually increased sales (via referrals and repeat business). I stopped handing out the small gift for 6 months and had a couple of my customers make comments to me about not getting the small gift. I still hand out a small gift to all my customers with every project because it has been expected, and it’s still a surprise to my new customers. Always underpromise and over deliver.
Great articles Steve.