I've received amazing response to my Old Rules of Business series. So far I've posted five rules and I have several more to go (PLUS all those great suggestions all of you have sent in!). Several of the Old Rules have been reprinted in trade and industry publications and websites, so clearly I've struck a nerve. That's a good thing, because I firmly believe these Old Rules matter.
That said, I received the following comment from one of my Two Hat BFFs, Sandi Bjorkman, about Old Rule #5: Under-Promise & Over-Deliver:"
"Steve, If you under promise and over deliver often, doesn't it then become an expectation? One of the manufacturing susidiaries that I work with doesn't ship early because early delivery becomes the expectation and that one time when we deliver "on time" but not early sets us up for issues with our customers. So over delivering sometimes becomes an issue as well."
I would love to hear your comments about this! Here"s my response:
I hate to sound harsh, but I would love to compete with your subsidiary! 🙂
It appears to me their relationship with customers is transactional-based, not transformational. They don't want to set up any type of expectations because their relationships sound to be based more on price than on trust.
When you say they don't ship early because that becomes the expectation tells me they don't have a relationship with customers. Good relationships are based on honest, open communication and mutually understood, agreed-to expectations. Through open communication I can let customers know that "Hey, guess what, this time we're able to ship EARLY! Isn't that great?" That's over-delivering honestly and openly without setting up future unrealistic expectations. Open and honest communication also allows us to be able to tell them, "Hey, I'm really sorry, but we're going to be late with our shipment this time." The customer may not like it, but they appreciate the heads-up …they appreciate the honesty …and their trust in you is reinforced.
IMNSHO, deliberately maintaining low expectations opens the door for a competitor who shows a willingness to go the extra mile and build a trusting relationship based on honesty and openness.
Okay, lay it on me, BFFs! Am I being too hard on Sandi? Am I on the right path or am I out-of-line? What would YOU say to her?
(PS: In case you didn't notice the new form on the right side of this page, I've written a brief whitepaper title, "The Ten Questions Every Businessperson & Marketer Should Ask Themselves." It's free and you can get it simply by filling out your name and email in the form.)
I can apply Sandi’s comment to internal staff concerns as well. When we “over-deliver” at work and take care of everyone else’s stuff when they drop the ball, then they expect that we will always do so and they’re more inclined to continue slacking! Or when you complete a performance goal by the due date or even earlier, your boss says “You need more goals!”
I agree with your opinion in this case. Our family has operated our auto dealership always with the philosophy of “treat others the way you would want to be treated”. I want the relationship to be open and honest, both when I am buying and when we are selling and servicing. I want everyone in our store to make EVERY customer feel special and cared for, no matter how small or how large the transaction. Our customers repeat and referral business means everything to our organization.
Steve, Thanks for your response. It makes me ponder the question of relationships. I failed to tell you that we sell mostly to the government. That said, my relationship is with the purchasing agents and not the actual end user.
I know that I have very good relationships with the purchasing and contracting people. Your feedback is not harsh at all, in fact, I believe that I must work with our operations manager to be more positive and establish trusting relationships with her customers.
Thanks you for helping me see a the flip side of relationships.
I would welcome any other feedback. I really like a forum where ideas and comments can be exchanged.
Steve, I am more in agreement with Sandi than you. To consistently “under promise and over deliver” reduces one’s own veracity over time. When “Hey, we can ship early” becomes SOP, the promised delivery date is viewed as late because you have conditioned your customer to expect that your “promised” date is wrong. It is better to be actively engaged in the process of supporting your customer by understanding their requirements and meeting them. Build trust by tempering it with realism and you develop an outstanding, transformational partnership.
Yikes, I guess we’ve been doing it wrong for years. I can certainly appreciate both positions. My take on this is first and foremost, keep your promises.
If you can do better than that, wonderful. If you deliver what and as promised, that should make everyone happy.
Can overdelivering lead to that as a regular expectation? Possibly for some. But for every client dissatisfied because you “only” did what you promised and no more, there should be 5 more who will be thrilled.
Those 5 will continue to appreciate the occasional extra service you can provide as well as the reliable service they have come to count on. Which would you prefer to develop as part of your client base?
I feel like I have been watching a tennis match. It goes from side to side without anyone coming to a specific point.
Service is all about meeting the needs of our customer. when we provide a customer with a ETA for what has been ordered this allows the customer to make their plans for selling or distribution. If we have the opportunity to ship early we owe it to our customer to notify them of this opportunity so they can make the final decision. Over-delivering could cause some unseen challenges to the customer that we are not aware. However by opening the lines of communication and providing a heads up to the potential early delivery you work with your customer.
What happens in the future now has a basis for making decisions since the lines of communication are open.
I always want to the best for our customers and it is only with good communications can I make opportunities happen.
Steve, you hit the nail smack bang on the head when you prefixed it with “This time…”
By making it sound like it’s a once-off, you don’t change the expectation for next time.
Shipping is one thing that can be hard to control, so using “This time…” when possible is a great idea.
For things you can control, you can say something like, “Hey, guess what? I’ve enjoyed working with you so much that I really want to give you a free copy of my eBook that I sell for $30. I’ve attached it to this email. Hope you enjoy it!”
There are really three sides to this coin; not just two. You see two sides, the company and the customer. The third side of the coin has to do with employees/staff and their perception.
As an owner I’m 100% in your corner. I always want to exceed customers’ expectations. If our customer says “Jump” the only question I want our staff to ask is “How high?”
But, employees alway strive to set “rules” in an attempt to “train” customers. Having longer deadlines causes them less stress. A customer who knows he can wait until the last minute to complete his end of a project and then habitually “dumps it” on us causes disruptions of work-flow and stresses employees out.
My approach to any incoming order is to “Do it now.” I tell my staff that the job they do immediately is the one they won’t have to “carry” on their shoulders. The job done today is the one they won’t have to do tomorrow.
Their attitude? That I’m obsessive and have a different point of view than theirs. In other word, it’s my business not theirs…and I’m just acting like a boss.
The fact is that there’s merit to each point of view. Yes, the customer relationship is always better when you under-promise and over-deliver. So, as an owner (and even a co-worker, as we’re structured in my company) I’m all for it. But, employees…my internal client…want structured work with as little time-related stress as possible.
Part of my job…as I see it…is to be an ankle-biter to act in my customer’s behalf…even if it upsets my staff’s apple barrel.
Somewhere in the middle there’s a balance.
By the way, the company we deal with that has the worst delivery and QC problems is an “Employee Owned” enterprise. They have a thousand and one reasons why things continually get screwed up. Believe me, if they weren’t the only supplier…at a price…of a product we need there would be no way in Hell that we’d deal with them.
Very interesting topic and input from everyone. I’m not sure what’s right, but obviously the relationship is important and it is clear that you don’t want to “disappoint” your customer. Whether that means you should meet or beat the expectation, I’m not sure?
I would like to point out that in many of the posts it seems that “time” is the main focus. Time is only one component. You should also meet or exceed your promise of quality, detail, cost, etc.
There’s a saying: “Quality, Time, and Price…. you may choose any two and we’ll choose the third.” Not that you would ever tell a customer that, but there is truth to it. If you have a good relationship with a customer, they should understand that their own expectations should be different given the circumstances and what they are asking for in a specific time. You could easily impress a customer by turning a job around quicker than promised, but time isn’t the only factor in that promise.
I love reading these atricels because they’re short but informative.