The Overpromise and Overdeliver Theory of Value

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Rick Barrera, president of Overpromise, Inc., and I have never met. Where real-world theories about optimizing customer experience and value delivery are concerned, however, we are brothers from a different set of parents.

Barrera is a long-time marketing consultant and conference presenter; and, while I’m not endorsing him for either of these, this blog will be devoted to sharing concepts that both of us feel are important, even essential, to build customer loyalty behavior and a more customer-centric culture. For some reference, I’d encourage checking out his “Overpromise and Overdeliver” retailing magazine article from a few years ago.

When it comes to provision of customer value, especially where touch experience is concerned, most companies overpromise and underdeliver. They create an expectation, or set of expectations, and then fall short on value delivery. This results in the kind of commoditization and potential customer dissatisfaction that, if serious enough, can lead to risk and churn. As customers, many of us have stories of supplier underdelivery. They’re all over the Internet.

Some companies, hoping to delight their customers through the upfront creation of low expectations and then the provision of unexpected high value, underpromise and overdeliver. Though this is a safe approach, and may impress some customers, it can also be a dangerous strategy because underpromise/overdelivery usually doesn’t intersect with the needs of the organization’s most desirable prospects and customers. It aims at customers with lower expectations, who often are less loyal.

So, the most attractive and differentiating value provision strategy is overpromise and overdelivery. Overpromising means offering elements of value that are, through experience and communication, significantly differentiated from competitors and both relevant and beneficial to customers. And overdelivery means going above and beyond, though all experience touchpoints, the value promises made to customers. Getting there requires some discipline and planning, and perhaps some reframing of communication and the customer experience.

First, companies need to have a thorough understanding of what customers expect, on a prioritized basis, and find most valuable, from both emotional and functional perspectives. Getting to know customers better is both an art and science, and it helps build trust on the part of customers, employees, and the enterprise in general.

Next, and perhaps most important in overpromise and overdelivery of value is the power of word of mouth for brand-building in the post-push advertising era. Breaking through the clutter means getting people to informally and voluntarily communicate, offline and online, about what makes an experience praiseworthy and a supplier great.

Every key touchpoint – product, systems/process, service/human, communication, etc.- has an overpromise and overdelivery role. And, each touchpoint is an opportunity to build brand trust (or undermine it if the customer perceives value underdelivery), which I can relate on a personal level:

– Products have to function at least as well as they have been portrayed, and hopefully better. The automatic egg cooker I purchased from QVC was not only inexpensive and novel, but it has proven even easier and more convenient to use than the TV demos. I’m delighted with it.

– Systems and processes have the power to enhance customer experiences, which is one of the areas where effort minimization really matters. Zappos’ product return process is so simple and automatic, it’s almost painless. My wife purchases virtually all of her shoes from them.

– Supplier employees, functioning as proactive ambassadors, can distinguish an otherwise ordinary experience. And, related to ambassadorship, companies taking the extra step to individualize and personalize their communications with customers can separate themselves from the pack. Leveraging data from my vehicle service history, and also using notes taken during visits, Dana, the service advisor from my Audi dealership, sends me targeted and useful info about keeping my 2012 A6 3.0 Turbo in tip-top condition.

What companies overpromise and overdeliver value? Well, the ‘usual suspects’ such as Disney, Zappos, Google, Amazon, Zane’s Cycles, Wegmans, Whole Foods Markets, Trader Joe’s, Apple Stores, QVC, Metro Bank (London), Starbucks, and The Container Store come most immediately to mind, for all the reasons cited above.

To sustain an overpromise and overdelivery strategy, companies would be wise to do as Barrera suggests. Using retailing as an example, he’s stated: “See your business through your customers’ eyes. Ultimately, defining your brand and fulfilling your brand promise at all critical touchpoints is about being able to answer one question: Why should your customers drive past your competitors to shop at your store? Walt Disney had the answer to this question when he said: ‘Do what you do so well that people will come back to see you do it again, and they will bring others with them.’ In other words, overpromise, and overdeliver.” I agree with my brother.

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