Should We Really Under-Promise and Over-Deliver?

Sep 17, 2019

Have you ever heard that old saying…that you should “under-promise and over-deliver”?

On the surface, it makes total sense. If you tell people that something will take two weeks to do and you get it done in one, they’ll be surprised and delighted, right?

Or it’s like the “Baker’s Dozen” which refers to someone ordering a dozen cookies, but the bakery actually packages up thirteen cookies instead of twelve. As a customer, you’re getting more than what you expected.

I heard someone talking about this concept just the other day. She said that there was a component of their association’s benefits that’s actually included by default but it is not talked about at all on their website or in any of their marketing materials.

So, new members are really surprised when they get inside their portal and they find out that this extra thing is there.

Now, for this particular association, the thing that they were including was actually a pretty big deal. It wasn’t a faster delivery or an extra cookie. It was a special program that took a lot of staff time to produce and addressed a clearly apparent need for new members.

When I asked about why they do this, she said they like to “under-promise and over-deliver.”

And that got me thinking about this whole concept.

There are 2 big reasons why I think that this is actually bad advice.

  • On the Under-Promise side…if you have something that you’ve discovered that consistently “surprises and delights” your members, why on earth would you want to keep that a secret?  You should be singing the praises of that – as part of your core offering.

    In fact, I believe you should be letting them know that your approach is super special and totally in alignment with what members have told you is uniquely valuable.


  • On the Over-Deliver side…in my experience, people who lead membership organizations have no problem at all with under-delivering. In fact, most of the time, I find that their inherent desire to prove value to members results in them putting all sort of time and resources into things that don’t really matter that much.

    I recently reviewed a list of benefits for an organization that was one of the most extensive that I’ve ever seen.  I just kept scrolling and scrolling and scrolling down their page. Ultimately, my question back to them was, “Do you actually know which of these things people are accessing and which of these things are making a difference for people?”

    It wasn’t that the member benefits didn’t look impressive on the screen. I was more concerned that in their efforts to over-deliver on value, their members were actually getting lost in a sea of possibilities.

Effective member experience design is about aligning what you do perfectly with what members need from you at every stage of their journey with your organization.

For members, this means you give them the most direct way to help them achieve their goals. For you, this means you don’t waste time and money producing anything unnecessary.

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Hey there.  I’m Joy Duling, Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.

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