Sorry… you’re not important enough

“Sorry I didn’t get back to you I’ve been busy with other client work…”

What do you think when you hear this phrase, either directly to you as a client or from a contact who was told this by a supplier? As far as I can recall no supplier has ever said it to me – but that could be because I used trusted partners who I know will put service as a priority – but I have heard from friends and colleagues that they’ve been told it when chasing a supplier.

I am sure that in every case the supplier is just trying to be honest about their workload (ok I’m not sure it is in every case!), but I will avoid this phrase like the plague because I don’t like what it infers. If a customer chased me on a project because I hadn’t provided an initial concept, or carried out their amends, submitted a new proof to them, sent their job to print, or was late on any other aspect of a project, it suggests I have failed to deliver what I promised, and at the time I agreed.

My other clients mean more to me

Even if the truth is that you’ve had to prioritise other jobs and you’ve not had the chance to get to theirs yet, I would never suggest saying so. Obviously I advocate honesty at all times, but in this case, all it tells them is that when you were working out priorities, their job was further down the list. I like to deliver a great customer experience that makes them feel as though their project is the only thing Pixooma is working on at that moment – even if our legs are swimming madly like the proverbial swan, my favourite phrase is still “No problem” as I think it is a great reassurance to the customer. Now obviously if what they are asking for is unachievable then that needs to be communicated, but I try to offer alternative suggestions rather than simply saying ‘No’. Or blindly saying ‘Yes’ to something I cannot possibly deliver.

And this leads back to the original problem with that phrase “sorry, but we’ve been busy with…”, it suggests that the arrangement you made with the client (i.e when you’d get back to them with the proofs/concepts/pricing etc) was unrealistic given your current workload. A simple application of ‘Underpromise and overdeliver’ can solve this and will result in one of these three scenarios:

  1. You end up delivering the agreed item well within the timeline you proposed = Ecstatic customer
  2. You struggle due to unforeseen circumstances, but you still deliver just in time = Happy customer
  3. You really struggle due to a number of issues out of your control and miss the deadline slightly = Slightly miffed customer (unless it is critical in which case you should have built in even more ‘buffer’ time)

A problem communicated is a problem reduced

And here’s my final point on this subject – to avoid the upset customer in option three, tell them as soon as possible that there will be a delay. Nine times out of Ten it won’t be a problem, and on the odd occasion that it is, simply speak to one of your other customers to see if their project can be slightly delayed without causing issues. If you have a good handle on your customer projects, the importance of the deadlines to each one AND you aim to underpromise and overdeliver on EVERY one, any incidents will be a rarity. Unfortunately what I see is that when a supplier suggests they are busy with other work, it rarely seems to be a one-off. And for me, that means it’s frequently an indicator of a bigger problem in prioritising and project management. Now, I’m not so naive to suggest that Pixooma gets it right everytime, but with the judicious use of ‘Underpromise and overdeliver’ as a standard approach, I think we have a pretty good hit rate.

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