Benefit of the doubt

You’ve probably seen it. The customer who’s just waiting for you to screw up. The tour passenger who is itching for one thing to go wrong, the legal client who has a whole list of complaints just waiting for the first bill that comes in higher than it should, the boss who hovers, glee in his eye as you work to make a deadline.

In fact, if you’re human, it’s probably been you once or twice.

As a marketer, one of the most beneficial things you can do is get people to give you the benefit of the doubt before you start delivering a service or a product. Here are five brainstorms to get you started:

  • Be the underdog. Nextel or AT&T? Nextel often got the benefit of the doubt.
  • Underpromise.
  • Build up expectations of difficulty. Magicians are really good at this. If people think what you’re doing is really difficult, they root for you.
  • Underhype. If others are building you up day after day, it’s easy to root against you. The Germans have a word for everything and they have a word for this: schadenfreude.
  • Call them on it. If you think people are being perfectionists and not giving you a chance, ask for one. It’s easier to ask for a chance to excel than it is to ask forgiveness if you fail.

My favorite way to get a chance is to give one. Organizations that are a little more flexible with their customers (and grateful to them) often get a lot more flexibility in return.