May 28, 2023

You may recall my statement, “overdelivery is dangerous…don’t do it” two weeks ago in my post, “Lose when you win. Win when you lose”.

I repeated that sentiment this week on a podcast when I titled my interview, “The downside of over delivering.”

In both cases I was lying with a purpose. 🙂

I “open” with quotes like these to make the case that overdelivery is everything… and that it’s not dangerous…nor does it have much (if any) downside.

You still need to be conscious of your actions when you might be going overboard with your delivery…which could lead to some detrimental consequences…but detrimental is never catastrophic.

The upside of overdelivering is always worth it.

When a customer, vendor, student, client, partner (or anyone else you do business with) comes back with any version of these reactions, before, during or after a transaction, pay attention…but they are not reasons to panic:

  • “That’s not what you promised in the sales letter”
  • “That wasn’t the deal”
  • “The guarantee was deceptive”
  • “This is not what we agreed upon”
  • “Your language was confusing”

If you are a human being doing business anywhere, responses like these are inevitable.

And you must take full responsibility for them…at least initially.

That’s how you will get to the promised land…and a more peaceful world doing commerce with tranquility.

When you receive feedback like the above, remember that there are always “three versions to every transaction”:

  1. How the buyer sees it
  2. How you see it
  3. What really happened (which is often not data you can easily get your arms around)

But if you start with #1—another way of saying “the customer is always right” (even if they are not)—you can more effectively back into a better version of “the truth.”

“Better” meaning you get to continue the relationship…assuming you want to.

This is a core premise of “overdelivery” as outlined in my book —the concept of 100-0–where you give everything, always contributing first, with no expectation of a return.

And with no judgment about who is right or who is wrong or “who owes who.”

I know it sounds dangerous…but check out the P.S. for a way to incorporate this philosophy into your life with little risk…and enormous upside.

Every time a disgruntled member from the world you serve comes at you with guns blazing, looking for satisfaction, to make you wrong, or simply looking for a refund, the trick is to see them as coming from a place of unrealized expectations (and not hostility or anger) which will enable you to be better equipped to deal with them.

And whether you want to admit it or not, you are the one who created the monster.

Those unrealized expectations are always traceable to how you frontloaded your message in the first place, and taking responsibility is the first step towards redemption.

For them and for you.

It’s also why some people disagree with me and think overdelivery is dangerous…because you as the “overdeliverer” created the monster by promising too much.

It’s not that simple.

Overpromising is only “too much” if you can’t deliver. 🙂

In response to something I mentioned in my post, “The perpetual hot trend” from 2021 (regarding going deep with an unhappy customer until they are satisfied), a member of my online family asked me this:

How can we balance giving an unhappy customer what they want while protecting our personal boundaries in a service-based situation (as opposed to a product-based situation when additional bonuses can do the trick)?

More on this notion of setting boundaries in service businesses below.

After a lively email thread, my family member and I came to this conclusion:

Frontloading with the most clear and concise communication seems to be the best way to achieve universal customer satisfaction in both life and business.

And no matter how clear and concise the communication is to you, it will never be clear and concise to everyone.


The case of the “negative option offer”

When I served on the “Ethics Committee” of the Direct Marketing Association in the 1990’s (yes there really was such a thing!), “negative option” was a way of life in the world of direct response (and still is, in newer, and often even more fiendish, forms).

Most of the cases that came before us were this type of offer in one form or another.

If you are unaware of what I’m talking about, negative option (renamed in a kinder, gentler way as “advance consent marketing” by the Ethics Committee), can go from legitimate to a scam in a heartbeat.

Negative option briefly defined:

You receive an offer for a product (e.g., a book) …you buy the book but the “contract copy” (copy on the order form, laying out the full deal, current and ongoing) gives your “consent” to peruse, sample, and buy the next book (with no obligation)…but without entering another formal order.

And it needs to be laid out in readable copy  (not like this), that you will automatically be billed (or your credit card will be automatically charged) if you don’t actively cancel.

This is nothing new in marketing.

But as we moved from offline to online, with online purchases mostly being credit card only, on a till-forbid basis (while direct mail was more an “invoice first” medium), it gets dicier.

Dicey when marketers consciously try to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers by writing the contract copy in mouse type  and look to collect as much as possible on those credit cards on the first order (and subsequent orders) until the buyer realized what was going on and eventually cancelled.

We call that a “breakage model” (i.e., the bond only gets broken through a complaint) …and it’s the worst kind of negative option.

Those who play this game give marketers who do it correctly a bad name.

An example of a good guy using advance consent marketing would be a membership looking for members to USE the membership rather than hiding the benefits (and the charges).

That’s the way to do it correctly.

This leads to satisfied, long term members rather than frustrated short-term members, struggling to get out of an ongoing credit card charge.

The bad guys hook you in, spend a few months capturing your credit card payments (until you notice), long enough to make a tidy profit.

Clearly there is nothing long term about this flavor of negative option/advance consent.

It’s the opposite of creating value…they simply create a way to suck some short-term funds from folks who don’t read contract copy…and don’t check their credit card bills either.

And it’s why I subtitled my book, Overdeliverwith some carefully chosen words:

Build a Business for a Lifetime Playing the Long Game in Direct Response Marketing

The underlined terms above are to accentuate:

  • A “promotion” is not a business
  • A “product” is not a business
  • Lifetime means more than a year…could be a decade…and hopefully multiple decades 
  • “Long Game” means relationships always trump revenue…and that doesn’t mean you need to be a non-profit while playing the long game either

Even if you do everything right when frontloading your offer, with all the legal contract copy in the right place, and with all of the right words in readable font, you are still bound to get complaints, threats (e.g., someone panning to write to their Attorney General) …and even cease and desist letters (from aggressive lawyers and AG’s who are way more powerful and quicker to accuse than the Ethics Committee of the Direct Marketing Association). 🙂

It’s all about how well you frontload…and then how you deliver on the back end.

Sounds so simple when put that way, doesn’t it?

I know many individuals who went to jail for violating the simple rules of frontloading a legal offer of this kind and/or not delivering anything of value on the back end.

There is an intimate relationship between frontloading the offer fully with the sole purpose of fulfilling all expectations on the initial order…and all subsequent orders.

Violating that relationship leads to messy divorces.

Whether it’s a legitimate offer with impeccable fulfilment with unclear (or non-existent) frontloading…or law-abiding contract copy with an illegitimate product or service…you can’t have one without the other.

It’s always unrealized expectations that cause complaints.

And pity the fool who doesn’t frontload the offer legally (and properly) and also fulfills nothing of value or significance on the back end to grab a quick buck.

If you’re playing that game, I hope you look good in orange.

Defining “personal boundaries” in service-based situations

Creating customer satisfaction in terms of frontloading with integrity for the purpose of diminishing unrealized expectations, specifically in service-based businesses (as opposed to product-based businesses), depends on a few things:

  • The price of the service (i.e., the more expensive the service you provide, the more you need to frontload…and dare I say, overdeliver).
  • The (over) delivery (to clients and complainants alike) is more about what you can “afford” in time rather than with goods and products…so a calculation of what your time is worth is always a requirement.
  • It comes down to “promises made/promises kept” …and despite many customers never being satisfied with whatever you do, there is always a negotiation that takes place. (But remember, start with “it’s your fault, not their fault,” …and work backwards from there.)
  • Since the value associated with a service-based business might not have any cost of goods involved—only your time and effort—you need to decide not only how much your time is worth…but also how much in terms of time and resources make sense to turn an unhappy customer today into a happy customer for life
  • Avoid “Done for You” (DFY) offers…that is, if you prefer fewer unrealized expectations…because the blame can only go one way (to you) with an unhappy customer when you tell them you are doing everything for them.

Going further with this last point: Taking the blame for an unhappy customer who has skin in the game (i.e., not DFY) is difficult enough…but if the offer is billed as Done for You, by you for them,  what is “Done?”

If “Done” is only in the eyes of the beholder, you will have problems.

And the bigger the DFY promise, the bigger the need to frontload specific expectations even more—with all of the deliverables and the actual results they will achieve.

If you can guarantee all of that, go for it.

I’m only issuing a yellow caution flag to enter into DFY arrangements with your eyes wide open since there will be much more of, “you didn’t do what you said you were going to do” …with the potential of creating an unwanted flood of unfulfilled customers.

When you are frontloading any kind of “deal” with the expectation that you can fulfill on it to perfection, you still need to be cognizant of changes that can happen midstream…on your part, on the part of the customer/client/vendor… or just unforeseen “stuff that happens” …that causes someone to go ballistic on you.

I usually know it when I see it (i.e., someone having a legitimate beef vs. someone looking to take advantage) …and while I always give my “partner” on the other side of the desk enough rope, there is also a time to turn off that “the customer is always right spigot.”

In a product-based situation, allowing a customer to demand free products as compensation for their unfulfilled expectations is the best quick fix–it’s only a hit to short term costs and profit–and I consider it a rule of thumb of basic customer service.

However, when services are in question, allowing them to take free services from you when you’re the only person performing those services (or you have a small team) … well, that can be a somewhat stickier situation.

It could balloon into long-term problems and it will set a precedent you don’t want to set.

I guess my best advice is to create what I’ll call, “I know it when I see it template” (i.e. the tell-tale signs) to determine when it’s safe to withdraw from a client or partner who is being totally unreasonable (rather than one who is simply unhappy).

Some folks can’t be saved…nor should they.

Only you can determine when they cross that threshold.

There are many ways to create a client relationship…from “done for you” to “done with you” to “do it yourself” …and the key is to always set parameters (i.e. expectations) up front and in all circumstances.

There are never any guarantees that customers won’t take advantage of you…it’s the price of doing business in a dynamic marketplace.

But setting up the field of play for a fair game is your first step to a winning (and more rewarding) result.






P.S. I assume you know the difference between an “emotional buyer” and a “logical buyer.”

Shorthand definitions:

Emotional buyers know what they want, they want it now and don’t need to be sold further because they have adequate information already.

Logical buyers need to be romanced, sold…and be given concrete reasons to buy.

Both groups are worthy of attention, of course.

However, for the purposes of this P.S., only emotional (and aware) buyers need to read on…as opposed to logical (and unaware) buyers who I promise will be served soon. 🙂

This is a twisted way of saying that if you like me already (with at least some positive emotion) …and you are aware of my work (whether through these Sunday blogs or my book) …then you are ready today to grab a seat for the inaugural “Overdeliver Bootcamp.”

Calling it a Bootcamp makes it sound rigorous with lots of hard work…but I guarantee no one will be hurt in the process…and there will be no obstacle courses involved.

Click here to grab your seat now.

And for those of you in the Logical/Unaware camp (who may want to join this Bootcamp eventually) stay tuned.

Hopefully I’ll deliver the logic you’ll need over the next few weeks to make a more informed decision…with only a hint of emotion. 🙂

But don’t wait too long…only 60 seats will be available.

Did I spark your emotion with that dose of urgency Mr. and Ms. Logical?

If yes, just click here.

If still no, open all future emails from me for additional doses of logic.  

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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