How to Tell a Customer That Things Are Going Less Than Perfect

Angry woman talking on phoneNo matter how hard all of us strive to provide good service to our clients, sooner or later something will go wrong. Parts will be back-ordered. The software will have changed. The stars just will not line-up the way that you expected for a particular project. How you handle this dilemma will define you and your business as much as anything else you do.

Here’s the key ingredient to managing this type of incident. Make the call.

The psychology of this is very simple. When you call the customer you are in control of the conversation. When you wait for the inevitable call to come in, the customer is in control.

For example, let’s say you ordered a product for John and told him that it should be in the following week. The item then came up as back-ordered. So, you called the customer and said this:

John, hi – I just want to give you an update on the product you ordered. The product is currently back-ordered. We checked several other suppliers but it seems as though the manufacturer unexpectedly got behind on demand. If you would like to keep the order in place we will monitor the situation for you and call you as soon as it becomes available.

Now, will the customer be necessarily thrilled with this kind of news? Probably not, but most people are reasonable and will appreciate the fact that you were aware of the issue and contacted them. This is especially true if the customer paid in advance.

By contrast, let’s suppose that you did nothing in this same situation and the customer called in and said this:

Look, I was in there three weeks ago and paid for my item. I was told it should arrive within a week. I haven’t heard anything. I’m not sure if you forgot about my order or what you are doing. Is the item in? I would really like to know what is going on.

The best thing that you can do in response is damage control. You could explain to the customer that the item is back-ordered but the frustration with the circumstances has already broken the brand that is you.

In both of these scenarios the news that you are giving to the customer is exactly the same. The item was back-ordered. The difference is in what set of circumstances the message was delivered.

Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. However, you can give unpleasant news to a customer in a way that denotes respect toward them and concern for their satisfaction if you make the contact first.

If you wait for them to contact you it’s over. From their perspective you just didn’t give a damn. And to be totally honest, you probably didn’t.

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