Play It Straight With Your Customers

It’s been over a month since I last sent you one of these “twice monthly” newsletters.

That’s a problem. Not only am I missing out on an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with you by giving you the information you’ve requested, I am also breaking my promise to you by not doing what I said I was going to do (i.e. send you this newsletter every other week).

So what do you think I should do about it? Here are some options I’ve come up with:

Hope you don’t notice. Maybe you won’t remember that I told you this was a bi-weekly newsletter. Maybe you won’t realize how long its been since the last one came. Maybe I’ll just wait to see if you complain, and then handle your complaint on an ad hoc basis.

Give you an empty, “corporate-speak” explanation: “Due to factors beyond our control, we were temporarily unable to deliver this valuable product to you. We understand how essential our services are to your success, and are committed to ensuring that this type of thing never happens again. Thank you again for allowing us to serve you.”

Tell you the truth in plain English. I was hit by a bus. No, I’m kidding. The truth is, I’ve been busy, I’ve been traveling, I just didn’t get around to it.

These are just three examples of how I could deal with this drop in service level; I’m sure you could come up with more of your own. I’m willing to bet however, that among these three options, choices one and two feel the most comfortable to you. If yours is like most companies, these options are the ones you would use under similar circumstances. In an electronic world however, these two approaches will cause more and more problems for you.

Here’s why:

Your Customers Have Access To More Information Than Ever Before. They can instantly scan the popular press; compare notes with other customers; and even interact in real time with your employees via email. If your “official comments” during periods of poor service reflect anything but the plain truth, customers will quickly find out, further contributing to your troubles. The days when you could manage public perception of your company from a centralized location within your organization are quickly coming to an end.

Everything Happens Much Faster. You no longer have the luxury of ignoring problems until you can fix them, or relying on that old axiom, “We are temporarily experiencing technical difficulties, please stand by.” I worked with an Internet company last year that had persistent technical problems with one aspect of its service, and that tried to stall using both of these approaches. The result was a flood of angry emails demanding to know what the problem was and when it would be fixed. (Interestingly, once they came out and admitted that they didn’t have an immediate answer, their customers backed off and gave them some breathing room.)

Your customers are much closer to you. Email allows customers to tell you what they think as easily and as quickly as you can craft your “official responses.” In this environment people have much less tolerance for vague answers, or companies that prefer to circle the wagons and temporarily disappear during tough times rather than confront issues head on.


In business, as in life, mistakes are made every day. Deliveries fail to show up, products don’t work as promised, customers are given bad information. By and large however, customers are more interested in how you deal with the inevitable mistakes, than with whether or not you make them in the first place. As the internet continues to redefine the nature of communication, your ability to provide customers with honest, timely, straightforward answers will become a critical component of your success.

See you in two weeks (this time I mean it).

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