Underpromise & Overdeliver

Underpromise & Overdeliver – All You Need To Know

Few statements are as popular in business as the aphorism “underpromise and overdeliver.” But what does this really mean and how can you use it to put your organisation on the path to success?

What Is Underpromise & Overdeliver?

“Underpromise & Overdeliver” is a strategy that businesses use to generate high customer satisfaction by doing more than they originally said they would do.

The thesis is simple: a good surprise is much better than a bad surprise. In other words, customers would much rather have their expectations exceeded instead of having them subceeded.

The Power Of Underpromise & Overdeliver

When you underpromise, you create an opportunity for your business to positively surprise your customers. When customers receive more than what they expected, they experience a feeling of unexpected reward and form a positive association with your brand.

In short, underpromising is a way to manage expectations, prevent dissatisfied customers and create the opportunity to generate raving fans.

When you overdeliver, both your and your customer feels a sense of euphoria because they received more than they expected and you feel euphoria because your business’ perceived value increases exponentially. As a result, you create raving fan customers.

In short, overdelivering is a way to exceed expectations and create raving fans.

“Overpromising sets you up for failure. Overdelivering sets you up for success.”

The Science Of Promises

Throughout human history, promises represented a complex social norm to create obligations, regulate behaviour, reduce uncertainty and build trust. Fulfilling promises builds the foundation necessary for maintaining and evolving relationships. The greater the promise, the greater the obligation to fulfil it to prove how trustworthy we are. When viewed through this lens, a promise is like a debt. Why?

Your brain seeks certainty as a way to keep you safe. Therefore, when a business makes a promise, your brain is banking on that promise being fulfilled which creates a feeling of satisfaction. When that promise isn’t fulfilled, the feeling of satisfaction is replaced with a feeling of dissatisfaction. This is a violation of one of the most fundamental social norms. Consequently, it leads to distrust and completely alters the way you will perceive and interact with the business.

In fact, one study by Dutch researcher Manuela Vieth showed that broken promises cause us to want to punish and seek revenge upon the culprit, which is why we feel the need to share the negative story with others. Furthermore, such a disappointment reduces the likelihood of any future interactions between us and the business in question. Our brain keeps warning us: These guys cannot be trusted!

The Science Behind Underpromising & Overdelivering

How you deliver on expectations determines whether you create dissatisfied customers, satisfied customers or raving fan customers.

When a business sets an expectation through their promise, your brain perceives it as a potential for a ‘reward’ and so it releases dopamine to motivate you to pursue the reward (which is why you buy the product or service) resulting in you experiencing feelings of pleasure. Your brain then tracks how your expectation compares with reality resulting in one of three outcomes:

  1. If your expectation is unfulfilled, then dopamine levels fall and you experience feelings of dissatisfaction.
  2. If your expectation is fulfilled, then dopamine levels remain stable and you experience feelings of satisfaction.
  3. If your expectation is exceeded, then dopamine levels rise and you experience feelings of euphoria.

Taking the above into consideration, it is clear that the only way to create raving fan customers who will be compelled to tell everyone about their experience is to go above and beyond to exceed their expectations.


Managing customer expectations is critical to the success of any business. One way to getting on the right side of delivering on the expectations you set is to underpromise and overdeliver.

Underpromise and overdeliver is a strategy for creating superior service with the idea being that customers will be happy that you not only met their expectations, but exceeded them.

Underpromising allows you to manage the customer’s expectations. Overdelivering means exceeding expectations which strengthens your brand, creates raving fan customers and ultimately puts you on the path to greatness.


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