Underpromising On Deadlines: A Good Idea?

The saying “underpromise and overdeliver” has been a staple in the world of business for a long time, but does this concept apply to deadlines? After all, deadlines are meant to provide a customer with a reasonable expectation as to when an action will be completed. Underpromising and overdelivering on a deadline may actually cause more harm than good because a customer isn’t expecting the action to be completed early.


On the other hand, perhaps the customer would like to receive an earlier fulfillment. For example, if you were building a deck for a customer, you would set a deadline for completion. Your deadline is based on your expectation of when you will have the parts needed, like carriage bolts and lumber, to get things done. You could set a deadline based on availability of parts in your area. Then, you could get your carriage bolts delivered overnight from Baco Enterprises, potentially meeting your deadline early. This may, in fact, make the customer happier since they will be able to get their deck built sooner than originally anticipated.

The Risk Of Underpromising On Deadlines

The risk that you run when taking this approach is that a customer may look elsewhere for service if your deadline seems too long. Even though you know you will have the parts needed for deck completion, like stainless carriage bolts and galvanized carriage bolts, at an earlier time than you originally quoted, your timeline isn’t going to reflect this availability accurately.

Because you’re underpromising, the customer is only going by what information you provide. If a deadline is set too far ahead with the expectation on your part that you’ll actually be able to meet it early, you may lose out on business since the customer doesn’t know your true intention. This can also backfire if a customer finds out that you actually could have quoted an earlier deadline and provided a faster completion time.

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Respecting A Customer’s Schedule

Continuing with the example above, if you know you’re going to have access to zinc carriage bolts or HDG carriage bolts earlier, but you tell the customer a later deadline with the plan of overdelivering, you may be showing disrespect to a customer’s schedule. Everyone is busy and has their own obligations in life. Planning around deadlines is how most people schedule their obligations with family, work and general life events.

When you give a deadline with the plan to get ahead of the deadline, the customer has probably already planned their time around the given deadline. If you suddenly surprise the customer and tell them you’re ready now, the customer then has to choose between waiting or adjusting their entire schedule to meet your needs. This usually doesn’t make good business sense because your goal is to value the customer’s time and faith placed in your ability to get things done according to your word.


What Is To Be Done?

To solve this dilemma, you’re encouraged to underpromise and overdeliver on the deadlines you make for yourself instead of the ones you make for customers. What this means is getting ahead of your own planning to ensure that you are able to make and meet accurate deadlines for customers.

If you need carriage bolts for a project, it might be better to get ahead of the problem completely by ordering more bolts than you need first. This way, you already have a supply available when a customer needs a deck built. This is part of your business planning, and it allows you to make reasonable deadlines that you know you will be able to meet without surprising the customer and placing them in an awkward position.