Are You Suffering From a Customer Service Time Crisis?

The service manager arrived at the auto repair shop for what promised to be another busy day.

He opened up the lobby, booted up his computer, turned on the TV in the waiting room, and started a pot of coffee. The manager went into the shop to touch base with the mechanics as they arrived for work, and went over the day's jobs.

I had an 8am service appointment, but it was 8:10 before he greeted me and checked me in.

If this seems like poor customer service, it's because it is. And it's also an epidemic. So my real question is, do you struggle to be on time with your customers?

Here's why being on time is critical, and what you can do to make sure you are.

Happy man holding a clock.

The Problem With Being a Tiny Bit Late

Like you, the service manager, and just about everyone else on this planet, I've had a busy week. And my ability to get things done has been impacted by service providers being chronically tardy.

My physical therapist kept me waiting for five minutes. A contractor arrived at my house ten minutes late for a sales call. And the service advisor kept me waiting for ten minutes after my scheduled appointment.

So what's the big deal?

One issue is the message it sends. Being just a few minutes tardy sends a signal that you value your own time more than your customer's. Or it could be a signal that you're not very well organized.

It can also have a cascading effect on your customer's day.

A few weeks ago, my physical therapist kept me waiting for fifteen minutes. Our appointment was scheduled for an hour, and I had to get to another appointment soon afterwards. I had to skip out on the last portion of my therapy session as a result of it running over our scheduled time.

The contractor who arrived at my home ten minutes late caused us to rush through his pitch for a remodeling project my wife and I are considering. We had other appointments lined up after his and couldn't run late, so the meeting probably wasn’t his best pitch.

And the service advisor? You guessed it—I had other things to do that day.

Why Are People Late

A few months ago, I uncovered some fascinating research about why some people are chronically late.

One of the most interesting aspects of the research was a study that suggested people with personalities most suited to customer service—easygoing and not prone to frustration—are the most likely people to be late.

There are other reasons as well. One is being over-scheduled.

If you schedule a meeting from 2pm-3pm and another meeting in a different conference room from 3pm-3:30pm, how exactly do you plan to be on time for your 3pm meeting? Unless your 2pm ends early (what are the odds?), you'll be late.

Another reason is we're unrealistic about time.

The service advisor promised to call me in 45 minutes with an update on my car. Unfortunately, that 45 minutes was a best-case scenario. It didn't factor in other customers, mechanics taking longer than expected, or any number of other things that might get in the way. I ended up calling after an hour because I hadn’t heard from him.

We also perpetuate tardiness as customers by letting people off the hook too easily. 

What did you do the last time a service provider kept you waiting a few minutes? In all likelihood, here's how the conversation went:

Service provider: "Sorry to keep you waiting!"

You: "That's okay."

If that's what happened, you accidentally gave the service provider a free pass on tardiness. And you've made it more likely that they'll be tardy again.

Now I'm not suggesting you freak out every time someone is five minutes late. What I am suggesting is you don't let them off the hook.

For example, when I started going to physical therapy for a shoulder injury, I asked my physical therapist how much time I should budget for each appointment. I explained I wanted to be fully present during our sessions, but also had other appointments to schedule around each visit. He told me one hour, so I planned on one hour and fifteen minutes just in case.

So when our scheduled one-hour session ran late as a result of his tardiness, I stayed for an extra 15 minutes, and then left without finishing my workout. I kept my word about honoring other commitments.

The result? I only had to wait five minutes the next time.

Take Action

None of us are perfect.

I was ten minutes late to a phone meeting with a prospective client the very same day I drafted this post. And I didn't even have a good excuse—I simply didn't notice my calendar reminder going off and I got sucked into another project. It was embarrassing.

What we can do is make punctuality more important.

I apologized profusely to my client, but I've also made a mental note that I need to demonstrate my punctuality to this client if I hope to win her business. One of the things my clients know me for is I get project work done faster than promised. If I say I'll get you something by Friday, you'll probably have it Thursday. 

How do I do that?

  • I plan all my work holistically, keeping in mind everything that's on my calendar.

  • I strive to arrive early (my recent flake-out notwithstanding).

  • I work hard to wait on my clients, rather than keeping them waiting on me.

And the service advisor? 

He promised my car would be ready in four hours. I told him I would hold him to it. And he came through. He called me at four hours exactly and told me my car was ready, which was a big relief because I had other stuff to do that day.