Exceeding expectations one promise at a time

Liz WalzA week before Christmas, I was delighted to receive a $100 clothing store gift certificate as a “thank you” for a favor I’d done for a family member. After a little research, I discovered the items I wanted to purchase with it were only available online. Now, I have to admit, I’ve never purchased clothing online because I like to try it on before I buy. This time, I made an exception.

In fact, once I discovered that everything on the site was 40-percent-off due to a holiday sale, I went overboard. Five items and $159 later, I had placed an order that was slated to arrive in eight business days. I had chosen the least expensive method of shipping, knowing that I wouldn’t need the clothes until a trip in late January. It was Dec. 19th.

Four days later – and two days before Christmas – I was amazed to find the box of clothes I’d ordered waiting for me outside our front door. Inside the box were the carefully packaged items (no wrinkles, no signs of haphazard packing amidst the Christmas rush) and clear directions for returning them, should I be dissatisfied for any reason.

In that moment, my expectations were exceeded. My loyalty to the company increased. And the chance I’ll do business with them again – online or offline – jumped substantially.

How had this holiday miracle occurred? I had no way of knowing, and I was surprised to find I didn’t really care. That got me thinking about a strategy embraced by two Top 100 Dealers in their service departments. One has a policy of quoting service jobs a little high with the aim of always charging customers less than the quote. The other has a policy of overestimating the length of time it would take to get the job done with the aim of always having the boat ready early. Both had the same ultimate goal: exceeding customers’ expectations.

The first time I read about those policies, I wasn’t convinced. Were these businesses REALLY doing themselves a favor by setting the bar low? Now, I’m starting to see the other side. In this day and age, many of us are skeptical about the businesses with which we spend our money. We go into most retail experiences expecting to be disappointed – and very often those expectations are met. So when a company not only makes a promise and keeps it, but actually over-delivers on it, a strange thing happens. We begin to trust them. And that is the first step toward the customer relationships we all desire.

Is there a right and a wrong way to generate that trust? Share your perspective by commenting below.


  1. Right On Liz! We do similar things, were we add a day to the time we feel it should take to be ready for customer delivery. Works out well, based on our Customer Survey results.

    “Before the fact, opportunity. After the fact, just an excuse”

  2. I’m not sure deliberately over estimating anything only to set the stage of bettering the experience is a good policy. I do believe striving to do better than promised is a good cultural policy for any business and one that truly leads to improving productivity and the customer experience.

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