In an article published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, University of California at San Diego behavioral scientist Ayelet Gneezy and University of Chicago business professor Nicholas Epley tracked people’s responses to three types of promises: broken ones, kept ones, and then ones that were fulfilled beyond expectations. And while it’s true that everyone gets upset when a promise is broken (I’m looking at you, housing-contractors-who-claim-bathroom-renovations-will-be-done-in-a-week), it turns out that overdelivering on something won’t make anyone significantly more impressed by your awesomeness. “Going above and beyond a promise didn’t seem to be valued at all,” says Epley.
Epley and Gneezy conducted several studies, ranging from a simple survey of people’s satisfaction after a promise was exceeded to actually promising their subjects something and then seeing what would happen when they broke, met, or outshined it. It turned out that there was almost no change in people’s levels of satisfaction when they were given more than what they were promised. Epley finds this particularly interesting in light of all the promises that companies make to their customers. “If you deliver books for Amazon.com and you promise four-day delivery, getting it to people in three days isn’t that beneficial to you,” says Epley. In other words, this explains why I’m only mildly pleased when my plane flight is a few minutes early but I’m furious when it’s delayed.