This wasn't a bucket list item, but it was close.
My favorite winery in Napa was hosting an exclusive winemaker dinner, with another party the following day. My wife, Sally, and I love this winery and it sounded like an amazing weekend.
I signed up for the interest list to get notified when tickets went on sale.
Five weeks went by with no news. I emailed my contact at the winery for an update. She replied a day later, "Tickets go on sale Tuesday." It was Friday.
Tuesday came and went with no notice. I emailed again the following Friday but received no response. On Monday, I called and left a voice mail but still no response.
A day later, my winery contact emailed me. The tickets are finally on sale. It was a week later than she'd promised and too late for us. We'd already made plans with some family members who were visiting from out of town.
Why are customer service professionals constantly running late? Here's a look at the reasons why, plus some potential solutions.
Our Overly Optimistic View of Time
A few months ago, I wrote this post about why employees are often late. A problem occurs when employees are overly optimistic about how long it takes to get things done.
One of the studies I cited was a 1994 series of experiments conducted by Roger Buehler, Dale Griffin, and Michael Ross. They wanted to see how accurately people could forecast the time it takes to complete a task.
A group of 37 psychology students were asked to estimate when they would complete their honors thesis. The average estimate was way off.
Only 11 of the 37 students finished their thesis by the time they predicted. That means 70 percent of the group was overly optimistic.
The researchers anticipated this optimism problem, so they asked participants to make a second prediction after their first one had been recorded. Participants were asked to imagine everything went as poorly as it possibly could. How long did they think it would take them to complete their thesis given that scenario.
The worst case scenario predictions were still off.
Buehler, Griffin, and Ross ran a second experiment where they asked another group of psychology students to think about a school project that was due within the next two weeks. The subjects were asked to predict when they would get it done. As before, the subjects were overly optimistic, with only 43.6 percent finishing by the predicted time.
There was an additional twist. Subjects were asked to think aloud as they estimated the project completion time, and the experimenters recorded and categorized what people thought about. The results were startling:
71% of the subjects' thinking focused on how they would complete the project.
Only 3% of thoughts were spent on anticipating problems.
Just 1% of thinking considered problems encountered on previous projects.
That last one amazed me. Participants continuously failed to learn from their experience when making plans to complete a task. It also explains why some employees and companies are consistently late.
How to Meet More Deadlines
There are a few things you can do to meet more deadlines and keep your customers happy.
First, whenever planning a task, start with the deadline and work backwards to create your plan. Buehler, Griffin, and Ross found that having a clear deadline can be very helpful—in one experiment, 80.6 percent of school projects were finished on time when the students had a deadline.
Try to negotiate the latest mutually agreed-upon deadline to give yourself some extra time. So if you think you can get something done by Thursday, ask if Friday is okay. (More on that technique here.)
Next, think about potential obstacles. Here are some common ones I consider:
Travel: My available time is limited when I'm on a plane or with another client.
Workload: I consider other projects I'm working on at the same time.
Personal: My personal life factors into my availability as well, such as an upcoming vacation.
As you think about each potential obstacle, think about how similar situations have gone in the past. For example, if I'm traveling, I know from experience that I'll likely be too tired to do much on the return flight from a long trip. So I don't count on having that time to work.
Finally, lay out a project plan and track the important milestones as you go. My goal is always to get work done early, because you never know what will come up.
In case you're wondering, I told a few people I was working on this post. My promised delivery date was next week. And now I'm early.