The Secret to Making People Happy

This Otter feels cheated.

Hundreds of dollars. Unbelievable. We had just purchased our first home. In fact, we were still unpacking boxes and arranging furniture when the letter came.  It was from the title company; I thought it was another bill.

The previous month, our loan officer had us bring in money for closing costs. He guessed conservatively. After the closing costs were paid, there was still money left over. We then got a nice check in the mail when we weren’t expecting it. Receiving money like that almost never happens, and it left a lasting impression on me.

The temptation that we often face is to please people on the short term. We tell our wives that we will be home at 5 but don’t arrive until 5:30. We tell our kids that we will just be a minute and then we come out an hour later, after they’ve torn down their box fort. We tell people whatever we think they will want to hear in the moment, not what they are likely to get.

I think people are sick of it. They are tired of being lied to by every advertiser and salesman on the planet. They are promised the world, but left bitterly disappointed time and again.

Craigslist is no exception. Buyers on Craigslist need to be treated the same way any business should treat their customers. They should be leaving blown away at how positive the experience was. To do this, we need to set realistic expectations and stop over promising.

How to Stop Over Promising

This is the hard part.  The first thing to do is write a list down of the situations in your life where you disappoint people the most.  Many times it’s answering questions with what we think people want to hear, instead of the truth, or a conservative estimate of what the truth might be. (When we will be home or arrive somewhere, how much something is going to cost, what we will do or give to someone.)  Other times it’s saying what we think people need to hear in order to buy our product or service.

For me, it’s been all of the above and more. It’s been something I’ve wrestled with for a long time. Much of it’s rooted in a desire to please people and not disappoint. What’s ironic is that when you try to please everyone, you often please no one.  In an effort to please one minute, you set up disappointment for the next.

The list you made above is where you need to focus. If we are going to change the experience for our customers or buyers, we need to change how we treat everyone.

Tips to Fight Over Promising

1.  Be conservative in all your answers. Error on the side that it might take longer to finish and longer to get there. Assume that it might cost a little more.

2.  If you aren’t 100% confident that you can deliver something, don’t even mention it. Don’t get their hopes up. Better to surprise with a bonus than to disappoint.

3.  Be slow to make too many promises. Especially stacked on top of each other, where one is dependent upon the previous one working out perfectly.  Life is messy.  Things rarely turn out exactly how we plan.

How to Over Deliver

This is the fun part.  Now that people’s expectations are pretty grounded in reality, do your best to exceed them as often as you can.  We love surprises.  Steve Jobs was a master at it.  He would present a product and talk about all the features. People were already satisfied. Then there would always be one more thing that would blow everyone away.

Here are a Few Ways to Over Deliver

1.  Show up a little before you said you would. Maybe you told your kid you couldn’t make it to his game. Just show up. Disappointment can run deep, but surprising someone can be even more powerful.

2.  Go the extra mile. If you find out that a customer needs a certain part, go buy it for them at the store.  If you are delivering firewood to someone, give them a bunch of it already chopped up into kindling. If you were only supposed to deliver an item, help them set it up. Help them change out the power cord for the correct one. Find little ways to exceed their expectations.

3.  Charge them less than you agreed upon. They will keep your name and number until the end of time. Set yourself apart. Do things differently than everyone else.

4.  Give them a thank you gift. Give them a gift card to a coffee shop or movie tickets or local restaurant.

This Otter received a smoked salmon gift basket.

So to review, be sober and conservative when making promises. Be the one that exceeds expectations. Better to surprise than disappoint. You might just make someone smile.


  1. Great tips, especially on over-delivery. My main work is video production for all sizes of businesses. A few years ago I decided to get some coffee mugs made with my business info printed on them to give to clients. When I’d meet with them I’d bring a couple along and offer them up as “business cards with a purpose.” I can’t say I’ve gotten return business because of this approach but they seemed thrilled to get them. Also, the lady at the promotions company I bought them from over-delivered. Out of a case of 36 a half dozen or so had very light printing on some of the words. After I mentioned it to her, she not only replaced those but gave me another case for free. You bet I go back there when I need promo items.

  2. I have started doing this with my new business. I make custom weighted blankets. I tell my customers that my turn around time is 2 weeks. (This is about a week quicker than other similar companies already.) But I have been able to provide a completed product to my customers with 7-10 days. This makes me feel good and the customers super happy. Great tip Ryan. Thanks!

  3. Best part: “Charge them less than you agreed upon. They will keep your name and number until the end of time. Set yourself apart. Do things differently than everyone else.” I would definitely consider this wise. Even the slightest of discounts both gives you a certain credibility, and provides the foundation for a return customer. Even if your product isn’t the kind of thing that you tend to get return customers for, they will most likely recommend you to others. Consider the minor discount in marginal profits, as an investment in your future sales. Great stuff Ryan. Thanks for posting this, glad I could be the inspiration for something like this. Brilliant!

  4. Ryan,
    I am really enjoying all of the recent posts. My wife and I just moved to a new part of the country following her job and I’m taking this opportunity to give “recraigslisting” a try. I look forward to more posts in the future and once I get settled I may even send you a few questions and ask for some start up advice! Keep up the good work.


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