Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

Delays Will Happen.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a feeling that reminds me of flight delays. We have two different projects where the end date will be missed (not by much) because of circumstances beyond our reach or tightened delivery dates. Nevertheless, it is important to our customer. To me, it is the human nature of good folks to not wish to miss deadlines, regardless. Over the years, one of our major customers has drilled into my mind that if there’s a delay in a milestone, tell it early. “No surprises” is their motto.

In our business, whether the problem arises from a municipality, moved up deadlines, the weather or whatever, delays at times are inevitable. It’s how one deals with setbacks that makes the difference.

A few thoughts:

  1. Be cautiously optimistic, but also be realistic. If you set reasonable expectations upfront, you’ll have a lot less to apologize for later.
  2. Don’t kick the can down the road. I learned a long time ago that if there’s a problem or a milestone date in jeopardy, tell the client early. However painful it may be, it will get worse as the original deadline looms closer.
  3. Resist the urge to point fingers. Blaming your suppliers or your own team reflects poorly on you. Take responsibility and focus on next steps.
  4. Show your hand. Be real and let the customer see all of the strategy and good efforts that are taking place.

Even if you handle things just right, most customer relationships will be disappointed by a delay. But they’ll also understand, as we are all human. Obviously milestones do need to be met, or we go out of business, but handling the communications just right is the first good step when there is a delay. Instill confidence, then back it up with action, and you can turn a delay into a foundation for long-term trust.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.