I walked into the restaurant and the place was buzzing. Not an empty table to be found. I sat down at our table with my wife and another couple, the waiter came right over and went into his well-rehearsed speech about the menu, etc. He highly recommended a couple of steaks that he said "will blow you away, and look like the steak that tipped Fred Flintstone's car!" Now that must be some steak, I thought. How could I not order it? My wife ordered a salad that the waiter said was "one of the best Caesar salads you'll ever have!" Now that must be some salad, my wife also thought. And she took his recommendation.
Almost an hour later, the salad arrived. It was a small plate with several, wilted strips of romaine and a blob of dressing on it. Forty-five minutes after that, my steak arrived, delivered on a large, white plate that dwarfed the entrée. This was the steak that drew the analogy to the Flintstones? There was more plate than meat, by a long shot. And the waiter, who was grating on our nerves by then, and whose rigid training made him oblivious to our waning dining experience, asked, "Is everything EXCELLENT?!"
The point of this story is not to help you relive my frustrating meal, but to point out how not to do business. Especially in this economic environment. The new restaurant took extraordinary efforts to create very high expectations -- including the overly aggressive wait staff that promised greatness -- and then delivered a mediocre product. They failed to live up to our expectations. In fact, the only aspect of greatness was their ability to underdeliver.
Your agency is about to enter what promises to be the most challenging year in business in the last 80 years in America. Client retention will come under a magnifying glass more now than in recent memory. One of the easiest ways to keep your clients is to adhere to the old adage of doing more than is expected of you. Yes, just underpromise and overdeliver in your ideas, timetables, budget management, responsiveness and results. If you do more than you say you are going to do, then you will indeed satisfy your clients. They will re-hire your agency, reward you with additional work, and refer you to other companies.
Of course, if you do the opposite and promise more than you are prepared -- or able -- to deliver, and provide less than what your clients expect, then you will enjoy your just desserts.