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Underpromise and Overdeliver

Sometimes, providing great client service can feel like a double-edged sword, particularly when making a client happy means pushing yourself and your co-workers to the point of exhaustion. The pressure, for them and for you, can become unbearable. You want to please clients, so you set deadlines for product delivery that are overly optimistic if not downright unrealistic.

You make promises you can't keep and set expectations you can't meet.

In many cases this is unnecessary. There are obvious exceptions, of course: tax deadlines, court dates and the like. But I am talking about the countless missed opportunities to set a reasonable and appropriate deadline by managing your clients’ expectations better.

The results of setting unrealistic deadlines are ugly, indeed: you are burned-out and stressed-out; your support team members are pulling out their hair and plotting your demise as they scramble to produce; and your client receives a product that is less than it might have been if there were a little more time available. The overall effect, then, is the opposite of what you want when you think of good client service.

By altering your behavior and enhancing your client conversations, you can give yourself and your co-workers the precious gift of time. Ultimately, you will also provide better client service.

You have the power to improve your deadline dilemma by underpromising and overdelivering. Here's how: select the date in your head when you think you can deliver a client's work, then add at least two days to that date before you utter a word. If you think you can deliver something on Monday at noon, ask the client if Wednesday afternoon would work for him. That way, if you actually have the product ready by Monday, you can look like a hero by delivering early. You have overdelivered, which is a great way to differentiate yourself from competitors. However, if reality sets in and the product is not ready until Wednesday, you're still in good shape and have met your commitment.

Here are a few ways to improve your deadline setting skills:

  1. Don't assume anything. Ask the client when he wants the product. If he replies vaguely, ask for more details, or say something like "Is next Friday suitable?". Be specific: agree on a date and time. If the client presents an unreasonable or unworkable deadline, talk with him about it. Usually, clients are flexible and willing to work with you.
  2. Remember: when you have finished your work, the work is not finished. It still has to be typed, proofed, and printed at a minimum. That takes time. It is very unwise to underrate this part of the process. A technically brilliant product that contains typos or poor grammar isn't brilliant: it's shoddy. Give your support team the time they need to do their part of the job.
  3. If everything turns to mud and you can't meet the deadline even with your new strategy, call the client immediately. Tell him you won't be able to deliver the product on the date you set, and tell him when you will be able to do so. Don't give excuses. Just give your client the clearest information you can as soon as you know it.

If you learn to underpromise and overdeliver, you will have happier clients, more effective internal support, and better deliverables. Most important, you will be happier and less stressed every day because you have added a bit more time to your life.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009