We see this all the time.
A company knows they have a problem, they can see the problem, they know the problem will affect the customer, but don’t tell the customer until the very last minute. And then they really have a problem.
Or they know they have a problem, but hope they can fix the problem with a last minute heroic effort, so they don’t tell the customer. Then, if the problem is solved, feel like they did the right thing by not telling the customer in the first place.
So which approach is correct? Or is there another and a better way?
Let’s say your customer orders 10,000 of your widgets for delivery in 30 days. You take the order and send it to the production department.
15 days later production comes back and says they have a backlog and might not have 10,000 ready in 30 days, but they can have 8,000 in 30, and the remaining 2,000 ten days later.
What should you do?
Not tell the customer hoping all 10,000 will be ready? Not tell and figure they can’t use all 10,000 at once, so 2,000 coming later should not be a problem?
Actually, if you learn about this after 15 days, we suggest you reach out to your customer right away and explain the situation.
“Hello Customer. We have your order. It is in production. We are sure about delivering 8,000 in 30 days, and the remaining 2,000 10 days later. We might get 10,000 in 30 days, but 8,000 is sure. We wanted to let you know as soon as we could see this situation.”
Now your customer has time. They can adjust. Or, if they insist, you have 15 days to push for priority in production. Or you can help find alternative. Or they can change their schedule to use 8,000 right away, and 2,000 a little later, which they might not be able to do if you only tell them at the last minute.
And, if by some heroic effort in the production department, you do end up delivering 10,000 in 30 days. Well, then you end up looking better, not worse, for having made the full delivery on time.
So, when things look awkward or even ugly, share the possibility of bad news early, not late. If the bad news does happen, you have given your customer time to make plans and adjustments. And if it does not happen, you have built your credibility and earned the benefit of those last minute heroics to make everything work out right.