Sometimes I am too keen to put the customer’s mind at rest, but it is more important to set realistic expectations than to promise a service that can’t be delivered. Here’s a tale of a recent customer problem that was resolved, not to my satisfaction, but to the best I could achieve.


I visited a customer in a pleasant seaside village and discovered that a part was needed to get their equipment working. I wasn’t too concerned because it is a part that I order reasonably regularly and I didn’t anticipate a supply problem.

That was my mistake. Checking the part number in my PDA, I found that the part was out of stock. I called in to the office and was informed that the part was not going to be available for a week.

Unfortunately, I had promised the customer that it wasn’t a big deal, and it would be sorted out by the next day. Maybe I was too keen to reassure her because she had been very anxious to get it working again as soon as possible.

Usually, I am quite cagey about making promises when matters aren’t entirely in my control; yet here, I had to go back on my word, which, as an Englishman, is my bond.

Remembering all that I have said in the past about setting and managing customer expectations, I had to come clean. The part was being dispatched that day, but from the Cannon plant in China. It wouldn’t be with us for a week.

I was asked if there was anything I could do to make a running repair, but with this particular combination of motor and sensor failure, the only thing that was going to fix the problem was a new unit.

We tried calling a selection of other field engineers to see if they had the part in their car stock, but the only one who had one was too remote to be of any use.

I’m pressing for this particular part to become part of the normal stock, but I have to overcome the objections of the bean counters first.

The important part of this story is that we were able to tell the customer what was happening, although the news was not what they wanted to hear, but they did appreciate knowing what was going on.

Anyway, the nice man in brown from UPS finally turned up with the part, and I got over there as quickly as I could to fit it. With the machine now fully working, I treated myself to a stroll along the beach, enjoying the spring sunshine.

Have you ever been bitten by promising more than you could deliver? How do you handle customer expectations?