So, you have the usual busy week ahead, made even busier by a birthday present you need to buy, wrap and deliver before the end of the week. By the time you find out what’s on the birthday wish list, you’re left with little time in which you can go shopping.
What do you do? You go online; pay extra for guaranteed next day delivery; put your office address down (you know someone will be in to sign for it); and sit back.
Only you don’t sit back. To be on the safe side, you look at the ‘track your delivery’ details. Time is critical, so if ‘next day delivery’ turns out to be ‘or the day after if we’re busy’, you’ll need to find a plan B.
All seems fine. The message – a safe 12 hours before the delivery date – says ‘We have your parcel and it’s on its way to your nearest depot’. Now you can relax.
Strangely, the same message appears time-stamped four hours later (it’s a one hour journey between the main hub and the destination depot). That’s OK. Probably it takes a while to make various other drops en route. Or there’s heavy traffic. You know you can still relax either way, because the parcel is on its way. It says so.
Seven hours later, on the day your delivery is due to arrive, there’s another message. ‘There’s a delay with your parcel at our hub’. There’s also a text: ‘Your parcel is delayed in transit. Delivery will now be tomorrow.’
OK, I’ll declare an interest. I have a child with a birthday tomorrow and, it seems, nothing to give him. And yes, I’ve made a call and written a couple of firm emails. Intriguingly, I’m told ‘on its way’ means ‘set to be put in transit’. Or, in other words, not even on the van yet. My reply to that bit isn’t publishable.
But there’s a real point here about customer service, communication and good old-fashioned honesty.
Customer service can make you stand out from your competitors. Your customers probably have various suppliers to choose from and the promises you make about delivery or returns or quality may make them choose you. But breaking those promises will make them think twice about using you again unless you handle your failings well. Trying to cover up your shortcomings (not just failing to deliver, but lying about your failure) is much worse, because they’ll start telling other people not to buy from you. And criticism on Facebook or Twitter can travel a long way.
Your customers know that stuff happens sometimes. They’re human. If you know you can’t deliver on a promise, say so as soon as you realise you won’t be able to meet their expectations. Apologise. At the very least, refund any premium your customer has paid for the service that you can’t provide or offer another kind of compensation. Be clear that you’re sorry, that you understand that the failure matters, but that you remain trustworthy and truthful. You might even get brownie points for how well you handle the problem.
But whatever you do, don’t blindly reassure your customer that you are already delivering on a promise when you aren’t. Mistakes are forgivable. Lying about them to your customers isn’t.
As for me, I’ll be rushing out today to some real high street shops before they close, something I could have done yesterday with much less pressure. After all, telling my son on his birthday that his present is on its way when I know that actually it’s sitting somewhere in a depot in Birmingham wouldn’t just be disappointing. It would be dishonest.