When you’re working with customers it’s so easy to want to say yes to all their needs. It’s human nature to want to please people. However, in business it’s not only your job to please your customers, it’s your job to think of your interactions with them strategically, and to make sure they feel like you delivered on your promises.
Let’s take a page from my good friend Jerry’s book on how to under commit and over deliver. I was working for Jerry at the time and we were in a meeting with one of our more important customers. During the meeting, the customer finally brought up a particularly vexing issue for them. It took them awhile to get around to this point, but you could tell it was something they wanted to make sure we discussed. From their perspective, this was a big deal. From our perspective, this was a no brainer, because I was already working on something that would easily resolve it.
Just before I could jump into the conversation with my miraculous solution, Jerry kicked me under the conference table. I wasn’t sure why, but I held my tongue and watched the master go to work. Jerry quickly acknowledged the customer’s issue and apologized for any pain or inconvenience this may have caused them. The customers nodded vigorously in stunned amazement. They were not expecting this type of response. They thought they were going to have to explain the issue in great detail and convince us to work on it.
Jerry continued to outline just how difficult the request was and how much work it would require on our part. He explained to the customer that despite all the difficulties involved with this effort, he would do his personal best to convince management to do it for this important customer. The customer was excited and very thankful for Jerry’s support of their request.
Once outside, Jerry explained his thought process to me. He drew a picture of how the conversation would have gone if I had jumped in and told the customer about the project I had almost complete that would solve their issue. He said the customer would have been excited and their first question would have been “when will it be implemented?” With that question, I would have been on the defensive and the customer would have been asking for continuous progress updates. If we were able to deliver our solution on time and it worked, the customer would be happy, but not overly so because it’s what we committed. If there were any delays that pushed the implementation to the right, the customer would have been irate and much more demanding on the progress updates. Little upside and huge downside for jumping in early with a project almost completed.
With Jerry’s approach, he could go back to the customer a few days later and explain how he had to sell his first-born child, but management agreed to support his request. He would again emphasize how much work it would take, but his team would drop everything else to prioritize it because of how important they were as a customer. Now when we deliver the solution and it works, the customer is excited and very thankful for all we did for them. Huge upside and almost no downside.
This sounds a lot easier than it really is. I still have to catch myself before quickly jumping in to explain how we are already working on something when I should be slowing down to put myself in a more advantageous position to under commit and over deliver.