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What to Do When You Don't Have Control Over the Customer Experience

What happens when the customer calls about a problem, but the problem is completely out of your control?


Let’s use an online retailer as an example. The customer buys a product and requests it be shipped via one of the typical shipping companies like UPS, FedEx or USPS. The product goes out right away, but the shipping company fails to deliver on time. The customer calls the company and is obviously upset. Why was there a delay? Maybe it’s a weather problem that caused the shipment to arrive late. Or, maybe it was just a glitch in the shipping company’s system. Regardless of the issue, it was completely out of the seller’s control. Not their fault, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t take responsibility.

One other quick example, and this one came from one of our subscribers, Brad Mifsud in Australia. He has a law firm that specializes in real estate. Sometimes, in preparation for a “closing,” which is when all of the papers are signed and the property officially changes ownership, there can be delays due to the bank or some other party not delivering their paperwork on time. Whose fault is this? Brad’s law firm, as good as it might be, has no control over the employees at other companies who may not act with the same urgency to meet deadlines as his firm does.

In both of these examples, the company and law firm had no control of the situation. Yet to the customer or client, it looks like they were at fault. So, what can a company do?

The answer has two parts: proactivity and communication.


Proactivity means you find out the information before the customer does. For example, technology allows for packages to be tracked and alerts sent if there are delays. You’ll know there is a delay before the customer does. Or you check with the bank to make sure all of documents will be processed on time, well before they are due. If for any reason there is a problem with delays (in both of these examples) it’s time to move into part two, which is to communicate with the customer.

Let the customer know as soon as possible about any problems. Even though they may not be your fault, many times they will appear to be your fault. It’s not your job to deflect blame. It’s your job to let the customer know you’re on top of it. You can email the customer and explain that because of a snow storm, there is a delay and when they can expect their package. A simple phone call can be made to let the client know that certain papers are being held up at the bank for whatever reason and that you’re aggressively working with them to get the problem taken care of.

Once you communicate, even if the customer isn’t happy with whatever the issue is, they will know that you’re aware and on top of the situation. You’re working to resolve an issue that isn’t even your fault. The customer will appreciate this effort. It’s a Moment of Misery™ that turns into a Moment of Magic® !