Terry van Rhyn of Ashgrove Marketing explains how striving to do more than customers expect can give businesses a competitive edge

I recently saw a great interview with Jack Welch, ex-CEO of General Electrics.  Asked for the one piece of advice he would give to anyone in business, he was quick to respond with “overdeliver”.

So much hangs off that one word: it implies dedication, hard work, pushing boundaries, passion, intelligence and so much more.

(At this point it’s important to note I am not talking about this word in the context of the phrase “underpromise and overdeliver” – underpromising carries a myriad of risks and can quite rightly put you out of contention from the start!)

My first motto when I entered the ad agency world was to always try to exceed my clients’ expectations. The second motto that I have lived by as a business owner is a Peter Drucker quote: “The purpose of business is to create a customer”.

There are many other principles that have become part of my personal and working philosophy but these two encapsulate almost all key success factors in any business.

Overdelivering is an interesting concept.  Let’s unpack it.

Firstly, it proposes that in order to overdeliver on anything, you are required to have a grasp on what it is that you will overdeliver on.  That simply means full comprehension of the problem that needs solving – and that knowledge is gained through research and by asking a lot of “why” and “how” questions. 

A rationale is then required to explain the problem resolution process in great detail, including the expected results of your suggested actions.   The overdelivery is how you go about packaging the solution to either your client or boss.  It has to demonstrate that you have gone beyond what has been expected and that you have uncovered a different and/or new way of addressing the problem.

In the ad agency world, this is a process we embrace as that is the reason why clients come to us.  They need someone with business experience to look at a problem from a new or fresh perspective and to challenge the status quo, but then also to come up with creative solutions that will make a positive impact to their bottom line.

The same outcome is delivered if you think about the significance and the possible consequence of Drucker’s statement: “The purpose of business is to create a customer”.  It simply means that, no matter the business industry or sector you operate within, you will ultimately need a person to “buy” your products or services.  Literally everything you do in business revolves around this premise and your business will succeed or not, as a result.  It’s that simple.

If people can’t see the value in their interaction with your business, they will not remain a customer or client.  We are all consumers and we all know what it means to love a brand -and what it feels like when you make a conscious decision never to engage with a brand of business ever again.

I don’t believe anyone deliberately sets out to build a bad brand.  More often than not it’s just that the real purpose or value has not yet been uncovered and often what you think you are selling is not what you should be focussed on.  This can be the business owner’s own fault for failing to listen or to think through the best way to package the message in a compelling manner.  Sometimes they are stuck on how wonderful the product or service is that they forget to ask the simple question – how does it makes my client/customer feel?

Yes, feelings! I’ve said it. It is in the end all about “feelings”!  Typically we make buying decisions based on emotional triggers and then we later have to work hard to justify the purchase decision. This behaviour is explained as cognitive dissonance.

When someone overdelivers, it allows for a few more emotional triggers to be pulled and as a result you are left with a “feeling” that someone has gone beyond the call of duty – just for you!

By putting your customer or client at the centre of your universe, good things will happen.  It’s then our job, as an agency, to make sure our client’s brand occupies a tiny piece of real estate in their customers’ minds. The more emotional and relevant the reason, the more it will be a meaningful and long-term condition.

The mind allows this to happen because when you feel good about something, you want it to happen again and again.  Sometimes it is difficult to articulate why you like or love something, all you experience is a feeling.

So, generate those positive feelings by overdelivering, over and over!



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