Good customer service can make a business stand out from the competition and should be something all companies strive for. In part this is because satisfied customers make great ambassadors, as the average happy customer will tell nine people about their positive experience with a company.

Unfortunately, research suggests that bad news travels far faster. Word of mouth spreads tales of poor customer service to twice as many people. These dissatisfied customers are also likely to leave you for competitors, as 68% of customers go elsewhere after experiencing poor service.   

This drain on repeat business is almost entirely avoidable, however, as a mammoth 95% of these unhappy patrons would stick around if their problems were resolved quickly.

Late orders are one of many causes of considerable customer unhappiness, and they're particularly frustrating because they can be out of your control when you use a third-party for your shipping. While it’s difficult to eliminate delays completely, there are ways you can handle the situations as they arise that will mitigate their impact. How you tell a customer their order will be late is key, and can ensure you keep the customer loyal.

Under-promise and over-deliver

Firstly, you should do everything you can to avoid the delay in the first place. This in itself can pay dividends.

Consider how you would you feel when you order something with a two-day delivery time and it turns up promptly the next morning. What a pleasant surprise! Now consider you order something important for next day delivery, and it turns up the day after you need it—the party’s over, the job’s been done, you missed the boat.

Know the timelines of your business and use your experience to ascertain how long delivering an order typically takes. Then add a little buffer, so that you usually beat this target, but there’s still leeway if you don’t.  

Keep the customer informed

The more you can communicate, the better. Not only will it get them used to hearing from you - which is great when it comes to marketing - but they’ll understand the process their order is going through. That way, the first thing they hear from you isn’t that there’s a problem. They know the order was received, prepared…and then perhaps dispatch wasn’t possible, or the delivery driver has been delayed. Explain why their order is late and do everything you can to give them a best estimate for the new timeline. Real-time updates are becoming increasingly common with deliveries and so ensure the shipping provider you use is as transparent as you are too.

Take responsibility for the late order

While the natural instinct is to shift the blame away from your business to protect its reputation, customers appreciate honesty and transparency. That personal connection has been lost as many companies become more corporate, but people still want to buy from people not corporate machines, and so they are more likely to accept mistakes from a person that holds their hands up than a brand that tries to shift the blame elsewhere. Avoiding responsibility shows that you can’t manage your business well. Instead, explain what has caused the delay, what you’re doing to rectify it, and how it’ll be prevented in the future.

Make it up to them, and more

Once an issue has been identified and explained, you need to work hard to rebuild trust in your service. This means going beyond simply delivering the order based on a new, later timeline. This could involve offering them the chance to cancel their order and receive a refund, or providing them with a discount as a token of apology. Make sure these gestures are accompanied by clear and sincere expressions of your regret for the delay and how you’re resolving it, otherwise they can appear false and uncaring.

Follow these steps and, should the worst happen and a customer’s order be late, you’ll at least know how best to handle the situation.

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.