As a glued-to-the-TV youngster, I watched countless cowboy shows and used to run around the neighborhood spouting cowboy clichés like, “We’ll cut ’em off at the pass.”TS-187467367

That hokey phrase came to me from somewhere back in my memory recently while talking to a client who was in trouble with a customer due to a delayed delivery. The customer was going to be furious, but my client was hoping the problem would just blow over without a confrontation. But somehow we knew that it just wasn’t going to go away.

Be proactive

I strongly suggested that, rather than waiting until the customer got so angry that she called and verbally exploded, we should “cut ’em off at the pass” by proactively calling the customer and politely apologizing, explaining the situation and what will be done to correct it. Give the new expected delivery date (and then duck). This shows that you are aware of the situation and doing whatever you can to minimize the effect of it.

You are giving assurances that you will be working to expedite it to the best of your ability and, assuming that the customer is a reasonable person, will lower the volatility of the confrontation. Of course, you still have to deliver on your promise and the customer’s new expectations.

Acknowledge and correct problems

Some years ago I was in the position of that furious customer. I had ordered a much needed, custom printed product from a company I had used a number of times before and whose products and services I had always been satisfied with. The item arrived on time, but when I opened the package, I found it was the wrong color and couldn’t be used. I quickly phoned the company anticipating an argument.

When I told the situation to the person who answered the phone, she “cut me off at the pass” by very nicely saying, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention.” I almost fell over in a dead faint, shocked that I wasn’t going to be forced into a long, protracted screaming match.

This response to my problem totally disarmed me. I was literally speechless. She went on to say, “I’ll send this issue to the production department immediately. It will be printed tonight and sent by next-day-air shipping tomorrow. You will have it in two days.”

Sure enough, the shipment arrived in two days and was perfect. On the third day, I got a phone call from the same woman asking if the shipment had arrived and if it was correct. I remained a loyal customer of that company for many years until my needs changed and I no longer needed their products. I even wrote a letter to the president of the company complimenting him on the way this situation was handled. 

Accept that accidents happen

Let’s face it. No one wants to give bad news to hear about errors from a dissatisfied customer, but we are all human. Sometimes we make mistakes, and when we do, we have two choices. We can choose not to admit our mistake and argue, which means that, in all likelihood, we will lose that customer (who will probably tell everyone he knows) forever. Or we can choose to rectify the situation immediately, “cutting ’em off at the pass” by disarming the situation — “Thank you for bringing this to my attention” — and giving us the chance to keep the customer once they are satisfied.

It is much better to own up to the situation by confronting the problem head-on than to wait to resolve it in an exchange of fury. If the problem is handled well, many, if not most, customers will understand. They know that problems arise, errors are occasionally made (even I will admit to making a few — April 1997, I think, but I digress) and most people will extend a second chance.

When problems arise, and you know you will fall short of both your promises and your customer’s expectations, “cutting ’em off at the pass” will defuse the situation enough to give you the time to deliver on your promises and hopefully keep your customer from abdicating to your competition.

Larry Galler specializes in coaching owners of small businesses to grow their business through effective marketing, customer retention programs and systemizing their business practices. Explore how he can help you during a free coaching session by calling (219) 464-9463 or e-mail Visit his website at