Occasional Brilliance: Good Enough Is Usually Good Enough


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Under-promise and over-deliver has a ring to it. Knock-your-socks-off service is a catchy phrase. Flawless consulting has an emotional appeal. What services organization can be against these ideologies?

Too bad that they are lousy operating philosophies to run a business by! Here’s why:

  1. Over-delivering costs money. Unless you routinely budget for exceeding expectations, every time your services providers go above and beyond the call of duty (the project plan) they add cost, and thus shrink profitability. When you publicly proclaim this type of philosophy to your field organization, you are tacitly giving your blessing to allow and embrace scope creep. Not a good thing.
  2. Hopefully, Number 1 is enough to get you to re-think your client delivery philosophy, however, there is an even more important reason to drop the cape of Superman services. Doing more than you’ve agreed to confuses the client. You have committed to do a certain project at a certain level of quality within a certain time frame for a certain price. That is what the customer wants and what the customer expects. When they get more or better or faster, they will gladly accept it, smile, and keep their mouth shut. But they always will wonder why: Did I pay too much and the consultants are feeling guilty? Did something go wrong that I’m not aware of? Am I being manipulated in some way? In trying to improve a client relationship, you may actually weaken it.

Yet, there are two important exceptions to this rule that need to be explained. Because occasionally blowing the doors off is very smart business:

  1. Showcase Accounts. Whenever you plan launching a new services offering, one of your first steps should be to determine which showcase accounts you want to target as potential proof sources. These high-visibility, credible organizations will smooth and ease acceptance and sales of your new offering throughout your market space based upon their solid endorsements. For these important folks who are willing to pilot your new offering (and putting up with all the hassles that go with it), you should plan from the get-go to put whatever resources are necessary to make sure that the pilot is not only successful, but very successful. This is a long-term marketing investment and, hence, the normal rules of project financial performance must be ignored. Do whatever it takes to delight these vital accounts. The secret is to tell them why they got more than promised. Then they will understand, accept, and gladly cheerlead your marketplace efforts.
  2. Service Recovery. All of us screw up every now and then. If you are doing innovative things in complex situations, errors will occur. The key is to have a services recovery policy in place way before problems emerge. Just like the pilot of an airliner who knows exactly what to do in an emergency, so should services providers understand what steps to take. The best services recovery policy is simple: Don’t hem and haw, don’t call management—immediately assume total responsibility for the problem, and do whatever it takes to fix things more-than-right, fast. Clients are so used to getting the runaround when supplier issues arise, they will be amazed at your response and be genuinely thankful to your organization. Research supports that customer loyalty is greatly improved when great service recovery has been received.*

Remember, in most cases, good enough is good enough. Save your occasional brilliance for when it matters most.

*For an excellent discussion of services recovery, see Chapter 3 of Marketing Services: Competing Through Quality, by Leonard Berry and A. Parasuraman. 1991. New York. Free Press.

James Alexander, EdD
James "Alex" Alexander has a doctorate in Human Resource Development, and after a dozen years in corporate life has spent more than two decades helping product companies build brilliant services businesses. Alex researches, publishes, advises, trains, and speaks on transforming good services organizations into high-performance services machines that create loyal customers, drive sales of services and products, and dominate the competition. He has written five research studies, four books, and over 150 articles, and has spoken, consulted, and trained in 25 countries.


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