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A 5-point plan to keep clients happy when you are delivering late

Here’s the story of how two different printers approached late delivery

I remember the morning well. I came into the office on a Monday to find an e-mail from a major supplier with bad news. It had been pouring with rain all weekend. Their bindery was flooded. Their staff were all wearing wellington boots and moving around in inches of water. It was not safe to operate their equipment.

The printer had owned up quickly to the problem. They listed all the jobs that would be affected. They also promised to give up regular updates on new delivery dates: they sent our whole team a spreadsheet twice daily. And they promised to compensate us for extra costs caused by their late delivery.

In contrast, we were also on the phone to another supplier to find out where some of our deliveries were. This was becoming a regular occurrence. It seemed that their customer services team were relying on us for updates on what had and hadn’t been delivered. We often had others in our supply chain standing still and charging extra costs whilst they awaited deliveries from this supplier.

For the first supplier the whole team was sympathetic. They received emails of support from our team and people worked hard to try and keep the extra costs to a minimum for them. Strangely, this incident cemented our relationship rather than damaged it. However, they did have to reassure us that were repairing their leaky bindery roof!

The two approaches caused very different reactions

The second supplier did not enjoy this support. People were fed up with the continued lack of service. They only retained the work because they were on a contract. Talks about lack of performance were being held at the highest levels. In the meantime, our team had sympathy with the other suppliers who were disrupted by late deliveries and a lack of information. All requests for extra payment were listened to sympathetically and quickly passed on to the printer.

Late delivery is becoming a more common problem

Clients are demanding just-in-time production. Paper is getting harder to source in a timely manner. Couriers are overwhelmed and struggling to deliver as they should. More and more printing companies are having to warn their clients of late deliveries. So how do you keep clients happy?

Here are five key action points if you are suffering from making late deliveries:

Be honest and transparent

If you have bad news, it’s best not to hide it! Customers admire honesty. And they get frustrated when facts are hidden from them. Explain why you are late: most people are surprisingly sympathetic to your problems. If you messed up the production and have to do a reprint or if you suffered from a power outage or a late delivery, your clients will usually understand. It’s best to be honest, even if you messed up your scheduling! (But see number 4.)

Provide regular information

Make sure that you are in contact with the client before they need to call you. The earlier they know about potential problems, the more time they have to lessen the impact for them. It is important to reassure them regularly that the job is still on schedule to the revised delivery date.

Make sure everyone in your company knows what is happening

This is essential. Nothing is more annoying than a customer trying and failing to get information. It’s frustrating for your staff too. Make sure you give regular updates to all customer facing staff, or make sure they have the right access to your MIS system.

Show that you are fixing your problems

Customers can be sympathetic when things go wrong. However, they don’t want the same thing to happen again. They want to know what you are doing about them. Make sure you have a plan to avoid reoccurrences.

Make it right with the customer

If they are suffering monetary losses, give them compensation. If they don’t make any requests, send them a gift to say sorry. It doesn’t have to expensive: some chocolate and a handwritten card go a long way to making things right.

Will this keep all customers?

Naturally, some customers will go elsewhere if they have delivery issues. However, many customers appreciate that things go wrong from time to time. They want to work with a supplier that deals with these issues in the right way. If you ignore them, they are far more likely to look for an alternative supplier than if you manage the situation in the best possible way.

Here’s one more story

I recently sent a job to an online supplier. There was no update on delivery. I contacted them on the promised delivery day only to be told that things were running behind and my job would probably be three days late. I still had to chase to get updates. There was no apology and no follow up. 

Guess who won’t be getting another job from me?

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