It seems that whatever we want to buy – from fridges to sofas to cars to phones – there’s one thing that comes free with every purchase. A wait. Sometimes a long, long wait.

Current order times for a TESLA Model 3 are ten months. More if you want big wheels (and, sadly, I always do). A fridge can easily be four months. Even a dining table can entail a wait of up to a year. A year and there’s not even a chip in it! Unless the delivery guys are clumsy. 

James Clifton, Group CEO of The MISSION Group

With ports blocked up, scarce materials in short supply and demand surging as economies reawaken, backlogs are getting longer and fuelling inflation not seen since the ‘nineties.

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While matters are often literally out of a brand’s hands, there remains the need to manage the customer relationship to preserve goodwill and protect the brand reputation. Plus the need to try to retain the order, especially for high value items, and especially, for companies struggling to get back on their feet after shutdowns.

Hence we’ve been seeing a lot of communication lately along the lines of “We’re sorry, but…..” I think of them as the devil offspring of the “Now, more than ever, in these unprecedented times….” communications that we all grew to hate back in Summer 2020. They represent a valiant effort by desperate brand managers to keep customers onside whilst facing conditions beyond their control.

Here are my suggestions for managing this tricky situation.

  1. Honesty remains the best policy. By that, I don’t mean “We’re sorry your order has been delayed” honesty. I mean “Your order will be delayed by x weeks” honesty. In other words, be upfront. Get out ahead of the problem and let the customer make the call to order or not. Remember, your competitors are likely facing the same issues as you or worse, so chances are you’ll still land the order. Tell the customer all you’re doing to expedite matters, promise to keep them informed and assure them of your constant focus on the issue. Always include the option to cancel. That may hurt a little, but not feeling trapped in a situation can encourage people to stay the course. Customers will give you points for being transparent and empathetic.
  2. Offer proactive alternatives. Suggest alternative products that you can deliver that fulfil the same needs. It may even be a chance to up-sell, although avoid seeming opportunistic. Instead, give credit or discount for customers who swap into another product as a thank you. Help the customer help you find a solution that works for you both.
  3. Do stay in touch (when you have something meaningful to say). Some of these delays are lengthy so periodically show the customer you’re still on the case. But don’t communicate just for its own sake. Give updates, offer alternatives or unique offers where appropriate, show you’re still thinking about them and the situation. Be available on the customer’s medium of choice if you can. Share any news of updated delivery dates as long as you’re confident you can fulfil. A little hope can go a long way and help customers keep faith with you.
  4. Take special care with your tone of voice. Too cheery and breezy makes the customer think you’re blasé about their predicament. Too gloomy and despondent makes them start to think they may never see their new fridge. Ever. Aim for positive, but honest, optimism. The goal is to help the customer feel you’re in this together and that, together, you will prevail. 
  5. Recognise and reward loyalty. For customers registered with you or enrolled in your loyalty scheme there may be ways to show your appreciation constructively: discounts, offers, events, limited or exclusive products. But be smart: only offer items you can fulfil immediately. There are no prizes for compounding one delay with another one. But there may be long term benefits from managing a difficult situation sensitively and generously. 

The challenges currently facing some brands are considerable. But good customer relationship practices, including communication, can help ease the pain and may even earn brownie points for the relationship once things return to normal. How brands handle difficult times is a good test of their mettle and customers don’t forget brands who treat them honestly and with respect. 

Meanwhile, if anyone can get me a Model 3 with 22” wheels before next Christmas, let me know.

Find out more about The MISSION Group