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Is under-promising and over-delivering really a good thing?

I had a lovely trip down south a little while back to meet up with some fellow entrepreneurs in Windsor and then stayed with a friend in Surrey. The change of scene was really beneficial and as always, it was good to get together with others running their own businesses to chat about what’s working, what’s not and give each other a boost to keep going.

One of the topics that came up over lunch under was the business maxim of “under-promise and over-deliver” and this is something I have mixed feelings about.

I understand as a new coach or other service provider, we want to wow our clients, especially when they first come on-board. However I think we need to make sure that what we understand to be added value is also perceived as such by the client. I also thinks there’s a lot of value in delivering what we say we’re going to, and keeping to our word.

I used to manage a large team of personal trainers and invariably when a PT was new in the role, they were massively enthusiastic about wowing their new clients and over-delivering. Clearly it’s great they were passionate about their craft and wanted to share so much. However one thing I used to warn against but saw time and time again was PTs – in their eyes – over-delivering and giving massive extra value by giving their client a 90 minute session instead of the scheduled 60 minutes. At lunch we’d talked about giving coaching clients a longer than planned call in the same way.

When extra value, isn’t extra value

Whilst at first glance extending time might seem gracious, it could actually cause a number of problems. Invariably clients wouldn’t be clock-watching, instead trusting their trainer to bring the session to a close when scheduled. Many times I would see clients panic and get in a huge fluster when they realised they had been in the gym 90 minutes rather than 60 as often that meant they were late to collect their children/get to work or whatever.

Although they usually understood that the trainer’s heart was in the right place, it often caused stress rather than the wow factor. It also meant the client was somewhat on edge the next session, wondering whether they could trust their trainer to finish on time, or whether they needed to be slightly distracted with half an eye on the clock the whole session.

Backtracking on expectations

The other outcome was that clients were in fact wowed by the extra time and attention they got and when the PT was in the early stages of building their business the sessions became 90-minutes every week and became the expected session length. Often the PTs would say they were happy to give the extra time whilst they had it, happy to get the experience. However as time went on and the trainers’ businesses grew, they would find they no longer had the time to devote the 90 minutes. The trainers would aim to build their appointments around each other so they could spend blocks of time at the gym rather than being there every waking hour with really spaced out session times. Obviously as they started to do this, time because premium as they could fit in three clients in the space they had previously had two.

Suddenly changing a client’s session length from 90 to 60 minutes after several weeks of the former actually ended up feeling like really rubbish customer service to the client who had become used to this and then suddenly had it changed without consultation. Of course, the contracted session length was 60 minutes, but there is the argument that the contract had changed if the sessions became an assumed 90 minutes without further discussion each week.

So the conclusion we came to over lunch was that if you want to give extra value by dedicating extra time to your client you need to ASK if that’s ok, don’t assume that it’s the best thing for them. If you both have time and are happy then that’s great but be transparent about what, how and when.

Don’t forget that there are other ways of adding value to your clients. Directing them to a useful article/ book/resource or perhaps a check-in text or email later in the week can be as much use to your clients without affecting session length or your time.

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