What Do You Do When You Can’t Deliver?

It happens to all of us.  Sometimes we just can’t deliver what we promised.  Even if we have the best of intentions, and fully intended to at the time, circumstances get in the way and you just can’t.

And then the difference between a happy and a dissatisfied customer lies solely in your response.

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you may know that my goal this year was to have all holiday shopping completed by Thanksgiving, so I could enjoy the season with my kids without stress.  I did the bulk of my shopping online and through direct sellers, and I was pretty much wrapped up by this Thursday, just waiting for everything to be delivered.

Then I woke up Saturday morning to the email from Target.  You see, every year “Santa” leaves holiday pajamas under the tree on Christmas Eve.  When I searched for family pajamas online, Target actually offered them that way…matching jammies for kids and their parents.  Delighted, I settled on a cute set, and ordered them weeks ago.

They started to be delivered individually.  But not all of them.  Saturday morning I woke up to 2 emails from Target.  One email said they had shipped another individual set.  And then another email said they couldn’t get anymore, and so they were cancelling the rest of my order.  I could keep checking back if I still wanted them, just in case they got more.

Wow.

So not only did I not have a matching set, but now I would be saddled with shipping charges if I returned the ones they already had shipped.  Even though they KNEW I was looking for a full set, since they offered them that way.

And it got me to thinking about how this could have been handled better.

For one thing, I know they offer these same pajamas in their stores.  That email could have included one more line in their email that suggested I check the stores.  So instead of just a problem, they could have offered a potential solution where THEY helped, and was not totally up to me.

They also could have offered alternative products that might have met my needs as well.  They had the information…they could have looked at what I bought and seen that I bought a set of the same thing.  They could have offered alternative sets.

And they could have offered free shipping to return the items I already received, since I obviously wanted a complete set.

But no, they dropped the problem on me and offered no solution at all.

Of course I’m going to look for a solution.  But it could have been so easy for Target to have suggested being part of the solution, rather than potentially alienating a customer forever.

So what happens when you can’t deliver?  It does happen.  Having run a direct selling company myself, I completely understand stock issues.  Sometimes they really are out of your control.  You’re surprised by demand for a product.  A supplier doesn’t deliver as promised.  And you’re stuck telling the customer they can’t have what they want.

But how we handle that problem can make all the difference.  So make sure you offer a solution when you can’t deliver.  Offer alternative items.  If they must return, make it painless.  Show that you’re a partner in making sure they have a great shopping experience.  It’s likely to build loyalty, even if you can’t deliver as promised.  The fact that you’re committed to helping as much as possible speaks volumes about the type of business you are.

Target really failed in this scenario, even though they could have offered solutions through automated processes. (If you have “you might also like…” technology, you can offer alternatives when you can’t deliver.)  But as a direct seller, you’re even better.  You can offer a personal shopping experience that makes you a partner in helping your customers get what they need.

Oh, and Target?  It’s really not in your best interest to drop customers like that with social media around.  We tend to get that word around.

When you can’t deliver, make sure you give yourself a chance to be a part of the solution.  It may not work every time.  But at least the customer knows you’re committed to giving them the best shopping experience possible.  It makes a difference.

Your thoughts?

8 Responses to What Do You Do When You Can’t Deliver?
  1. Rae
    December 1, 2010 | 10:03 am

    I am very glad I learned this lesson early on. I have many satisfied customers who had originally been someone else’s unhappy customers. Even if there’s nothing I can do to actually help, letting them know that I’m truly sorry goes a long way.

  2. Kristy Pool
    December 1, 2010 | 12:00 am

    Oh, I hate opening an email and the first word is “unfortunately”! It is so true, that the buck stops with us as consultants even if it is out of our control and I agree with you that our effort to find solutions can make all the difference. Also, it is so wonderful to have a supportive upline that also goes out of their way to help me provide great customer service. If I need to get a hold of a product or an answer to a question, they are such a great resource and help!

  3. michelle kelley
    November 30, 2010 | 9:53 am

    As direct sellers, we need to realize that we are the face of our company. Whether the problem was the “home office” or us personally, it is our responsibility to come up with a solution that meets everyone’s needs. Sometimes that means a cost out of our own pocket, but that cost is much smaller than losing a customer (and their friends). A problem handled well, can often improve a customer relationship. It’s definitely not a time to start complaining to your customer about your company. You lose, your customer loses, your company loses, and fellow consultants lose.

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 30, 2010 | 11:02 am

      Such wise words Michelle! You’re absolutely right. When a customer has a problem, it’s not the time to start pointing fingers. It’s the solution that matters. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Pat Zahn
    November 29, 2010 | 9:17 pm

    It really makes a difference how a retailer handles disappointing a customer. I recently had the same experience at two different Starbucks. Usually, I bring my own milk (goat milk from a farm down the street) in my personal cup for an Iced Americano. Sometimes they ask me if I want them to dump it out, this time they just did it. One of the Starbucks gave me my money back (but no acknowledgement for my loss of milk), the 2nd offered to make it but not charge me – which I took since I was heading home and could put my own in. I hope that I handle disappointing my customers in the right way.

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 30, 2010 | 11:03 am

      The response does make all the difference, doesn’t it? But sometimes it requires salespeople who are willing to think “out of the box.” You had 2 places that caused the same problem, but one response will cause you to come back. Interesting, isn’t it?

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