Is Under-Promising and Over-Delivering Still a Good Practice?

Is Under-Promising and Over-Delivering Still a Good Practice?

We've all heard before the advice that in order to succeed we should wow our customers by over-delivering through the services we provide, but is it actually worth going above and beyond?

The concept of under-promising and over-delivering seems to have grown in popularity among photographers, especially social photographers who work with wedding, family, and portrait clients. It is tempting to think that our value, in the eyes of our clients, would instantly shoot up the moment they realize we have delivered something unexpected yet definitely factored into our workflow. However, does it actually yield enough benefit for us to continue spending additional time or money on it?

First reported by Inc., a study, conducted in 2014 by UC San Diego behavioral scientist Ayelet Gneezy and University of Chicago professor Nicholas Eplay and published in the journal "Social Psychological and Personality Science," found that it's likely to be a wasted effort despite it being a commonly shared advice across media and among peers.

The study explored "promise exceeding" through a series of experiments, in which they tested "imagined, recalled, and actual promise-making." The participants of the study reported that they valued a kept promise much more highly than a broken one; however, the most significant finding was that "exceeding the promise conferred virtually no additional happiness with the promise-maker." 

Reviewing the findings, Eplay explained that he "was surprised that exceeding a promise produced so little meaningful increase in gratitude or appreciation" and had actually anticipated a "modest positive effect."

A woman working on a smartphone

Similarly, a more recent 2017 research paper by Omer Topaloglu, from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and David E. Fleming, from Indiana State University, titled "Under-promising and over-delivering: Pleasing the customer or strategic blunder?", similarly explored the customer expectation thresholds and tested how this under-promising and over-delivering strategy plays out in people's minds.

Their conclusions have led to suggesting "consistent certainty" to be the statistically smartest focus for business owners, which means delivering what you have promised to your clients time and time again. The paper explains: "to be a magical company then, promise magic and deliver magic rather than promise bland and deliver magic."

What this means in practical terms for photographers and videographers running a business is aiming for consistent accuracy to deliver the type and quality of work that their business clients have clear expectations of. This also helps build trust for any business in the future and attracts the right type of client who know that their expectations will be met with what you provide with your services.

Overall, it's an important part of business strategy to consider, especially for small business owners, because if over-delivering is not worth the potential positive result, a lot of time and money can be saved that otherwise is spent on tasks or purchases that don't contribute to your business. Small additional touches that don't take up a lot of your time or eat into your marketing budget can put a smile on your clients' faces or remind them to leave a review, but perhaps it's worth evaluating if anything beyond that is worth it. 

As Topaloglu's and Fleming's paper concludes: "certainty over surprise is what customers with ideal expectations value," which is something we all can consider for our business, however small or large it might be.

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6 Comments

J.d. Davis's picture

It seems that everyone is looking for a GREAT review these days. Before I reach home, my dentist will email a 'survey' to find out if they exceeded my expectations.

I expect he will do a good job and charge a fair price - so far he has only done one of these - to his credit it has always been doing a good job.

Kirk Darling's picture

I suspect the real problem is that people have great expectations for minimal outlay (regardless of the blandness of the actual promise), so overdelivering can never do more than merely meet their expectations.

This reminds me of studies showing that people do not work harder after getting a raise because they had always thought they deserved more money anyway.

T Van's picture

It sure beats over promising and under delivering....
Just little things like leaving yourself enough time to do a decent job and being able to present it to the client a few days early instead of half finished and late, makes a difference a lot of the time. It's amazing how much better your work turns out if you aren't rushed to meet an impossible deadline on every project.

T Van's picture

The art of selling the project, producing the project and managing the project so the project meets client expectations, price and on time is not straight forward at all. Most often projects are over promised because the person, or organization underestimates either the time, the resources, or difficulties the project will present, or all three. To over deliver is seldom accomplished because few people can properly anticipate all the variables and challenges.

A M's picture

All this under promise, over deliver nonsense is exactly why the photography industry is tanking. Deliver what is agreed upon and what you're being paid for. If you want to give the client something extra, offer to take a quick pic of them or something. Now the normal expectations are clients can make ridiculous asks and pay pennies on the dollar because of this race to the bottom nonsense...

Catherine Bowlene's picture

The whole under promise/over deliver thing got lots of photographers cornered, especially the ones who just start working with clients and think about possible ways to widen their client base. Word of mouth is a great ad, of course, but when you rely on under promise/over deliver each time and people start to expect that from you, it definitely will get you to the point where you can't meet the client's exceeded expectations.

At least, that's what happened to me, I didn't really appreciate my time and effort the way I should when I first started and I would spend hours and days doing the additional edits just because I was 'supposed' to. Finding the balance was hard but it was worth it! I still do little favors, like smartshow 3d videos with some of the best photos, or a couple of additional edited pictures, but I do it for the clients I've worked many times with and it doesn't happen all the time. Feel much freer ever since!