Ketty Nilsson President, NoroGard

Many companies’ customer service policy includes a reference to “underpromise and over-deliver.” At a time when businesses were just beginning to understand the value of customer service, such a strategy suddenly had a place.

Those days are long gone, as this phrase has become a tired, wornout cliché. Customers know better. Consistently over-delivering on lowered customer expectations suggests you are sandbagging your promises. In time, your weak promises will hurt your credibility. A better strategy is to honestly make reasonable promises and expand your efforts to follow through.

Under-promising deliberately undersells your capabilities. It promises only a fraction of what you know you and your products can reasonably do. In reality, it is deliberately selling yourself short — just to be safe. In a sales situation, under-promising can leave your bid vulnerable to a less qualified competitor, who makes a stronger promise even if that promise does no more than meet your reasonable albeit undervalued capabilities. Under-promising can also open the door to below-par follow through.

Under promising eventually leads to performance that tolerates accepting “good enough” when you are capable of being good. When quality control says a product is “good enough,” it is an admission that it is not good. When “good enough” products and services are judged acceptable because they meet the customer’s under-promised expectations, a lowered expectation becomes the new, lower standard of acceptable quality. Not only to the customer, but also prevents your employees to thrive for excellence.

Lowering expectations reduces incentives to make the extra effort needed to reach the top. Every front-line employee who has any customer contact becomes the standard bearer for your business. When anyone knows your performance or product could be improved, but they also know that it already exceeds your underpromised standards, there is less incentive for improvement.

People respect people who do what they say they are going to do. People also understand that some events are beyond your control and affect performance. You cannot afford to under-promise just because something unknown might happen. If a labor dispute disrupts normal truck shipments, follow through with extraordinary efforts to arrange shipment and perhaps absorb some of any added costs.

A more productive alternative to underpromising is to promise reasonably and focus on extraordinary follow-through to bring out the best from your team, your products and your service.