Ready for your business to take flight? Under promise and over deliver

Phil Castle

Of all the advice I’ve heard in interviewing business owners and managers over the past two decades, some of the best boils down to two propositions: under promise and over deliver. 

And though I’m only an interested observer myself, I’d add a third suggestion: Communicate early and often with customers.

The whole promising thing plays an essential role in business. It’s the basis of marketing. A business promises to provide a product or service that meets a need. Then it’s a matter of delivering on that promise. To provide the product or service when and where you say you will. To provide a product or service that does what you say it’ll do.

In a competitive environment, businesses must promise as much as they can to entice customers and differentiate operations. But never more than they can actually deliver. To do otherwise disappoints customers and damages credibility. It’s better to promise a bit less, then deliver a bit more. To exceed expectations, delight customers and, in the process, develop a loyal clientele.

All of this comes to mind after an experience in which a large corporation from which I purchased a service — at a dear price, mind you — over promised and under delivered. Did I mention I’m a consumer of commercial air travel? Then I expect most people will commiserate.

I recently enjoyed a trip to San Francisco to visit my son and his lovely wife and finally meet my new granddaughter. Connections took me through Phoenix. I scheduled long layovers in the Valley of the Sun in the event any of my flights were delayed. They were, but even longer than I anticipated. Coming back, a flight scheduled to leave Phoenix at 6:30 p.m. was pushed back to 7:30 — as in 7:30 a.m. the next day.

Given the shortage of flight crews and other issues airlines face, I wasn’t surprised or even that upset. What did make me angry was the way the problem was communicated to passengers. I swear, I received messages on my cell phone every 10 minutes assuring me my flight was on time. The display at the gate counted down the minutes to the time boarding would begin. It was at that very moment the announcement was made the flight was postponed until the next morning.

I concede I know nothing about airline operations. But I have difficulty believing the airline didn’t know it would have to postpone the flight until the time came to board. Was somebody frantically calling pilots until the last possible minute and trying to convince them to come to work on a Sunday?

If I’d have known my flight would be postponed, I would have spent another day in San Francisco. For that matter, I could have visited a dear aunt in Phoenix.

The business advice from this dissastisifed customer? If you can’t deliver on your promise, at least let me know. As soon as possible. 

I’m aware probably more than most bad news stinks. But the smell only gets worse the longer you try to withhold it.

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at 424-5133 or