“Don’t talk, act.
Don’t say, show.
Don’t promise, prove.”
We read it in every business book; “Under promise, overdeliver.” It sounds like a slam dunk, but there’s another side to consider.
Over-processing is a deadly waste that erodes our bottom line—and it happens because we’re doing too much. Overdelivering, when the customer doesn’t know about it, is a form of waste that’s easy to over-do.
A Tale of Two Cookies
If you know I’m going to give you a cookie, you won’t be surprised when I give you one. If I give you two cookies, you’ll be thrilled.
It’s about expectations. You won’t expect two cookies again because you know I went above and beyond, but you’re happier than you would have been with one. That’s the essence of under-promise, overdeliver.
Now, the fatal twist. Imagine you don’t actually know how many cookies I’m going to give you. You think it’s one, and I mentioned it informally, but there’s nothing formal. We simply haven’t had that conversation.
I end up giving you two cookies. You’re happy about it, but not truly surprised. You think, “Cool, I get two. I thought I was going to get one.”
From that point on, you expect two cookies. I assume you’ll be thrilled with two cookies but that you’d still be happy with one. Here’s the thing—we haven’t had that conversation. If I try to go down to one, it suddenly seems like I’m hiding one behind my back.
So I keep giving you two cookies, at first to appease you. Then, somehow, it gets built into my business. Now I’m over-processing, and I’m wasting money trying to bake all these extra cookies.
Overdelivering without the customer’s awareness is over-processing.
Your relationship with your customer follows two rules:
Following these rules will avoid surprises like, “I forgot to mention that you’re only supposed to get one cookie.” After all, the longer you give them two cookies, the harder it’s going to be to wean them back to one. Not having these frank conversations early only fosters a sense of entitlement for them and frustration for you; it usually ends badly.
The solution is to define what is and isn’t included in your customers’ services—fully, and in writing. With existing customers, it’s bound to be more complicated. If you have a customer who has come to expect overdelivery on the daily, don’t necessarily blame them. It’s up to you to have those conversations early. The sooner you do, the faster you’ll be able to eliminate frustrating over-processing from your working relationship and your bottom line.
While many still strive to under-promise and overdeliver, a growing proportion of businesses are choosing to do only what they agreed to do, at the agreed-upon rate, with no surprises. It’s a recipe for stability where no one gets frustrated or surprised, and everyone understands how many cookies are on the table.