The Secret to Managing Expectations: Under-promise and Over-deliver

I was sitting on the tarmac of JFK airport after an uncomfortable cross-country flight when I was reminded of an important lesson for maintaining good relations with the people around you: Under-promise and over-deliver.

After a mundane landing and relatively smooth flight, the pilot told the passengers that there would be a ‘10 or 15 minute delay due to an issue with a plane unloading at our gate’. We were slightly annoyed, but we understood that unexpected delays are part of the flight experience.

Unfortunately for the pilot (and Delta Airlines, who is notorious for nickle-and-diming customers and creating an awful flight experience), there were a few more delays that left our plane on the tarmac for another 90 minutes. When we finally pulled into our gate and got off the plane, there were several, clearly audible  complaints and dozens of exasperated passengers.

Managing expectations is critical for keeping clients happy and satisfied with your work. The pilot should have simply said that we would pull into the gate when the other plane had pulled out. He should have NEVER given the passengers and estimated time of arrival at our destination gate, especially if he was uncertain of when the delay would be cleared. Failing to make good on a promise or declaration is one of the most effective ways to sour client relations.

If you know that, at best, you can deliver a finished product or service in three weeks, don’t tell a client or customer that you will have it done in two. Give a conservative estimate ( ‘I can have it done for you in five weeks’) that will give you more than enough time to get the job finished. That way, when you finish in three weeks instead of five, you will look like a star performer.

This advice is valid not only in business, but in life as well. Don’t engender resentment and disappointment by creating unrealistic expectations for people to depend on.

Under-promise and over-deliver.

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