Timeliness: Reducing the Impact of Conflict by Keeping an Eye on the Time

by Joy Lanzaro

One of the most common complaints I receive from consumers who request mediation is related to breaches in the unspoken contract of timeliness. Contractors, mechanics and other service pros, please hear this: Next to your competence, the most important thing you offer your clients is time, or more specifically, timeliness.

The expression “Time is Money” as it pertains to service and repair contracts means timeliness has the potential to buy you goodwill, respect, patience, flexibility and, most importantly, more time! Like any relationship, timing is everything—people equate it with value, so it’s a critical component of professional communication, similar to tone of voice or body language.

What is the meaning of time in a consumer transaction? Minding someone else’s time carries the message that they are respected and valued. Putting off customers for too long can lead to rancid client relationships and friction.

Customers interpret tardiness or failure to return communications as a break from goodwill. No matter how much right you do, if you take liberties with timing, you slide into working from a hole. The no-cost solution to loss of profits is to prevent conflict, and the best way to prevent conflict from escalating is to mind your customers’ time.

What is expected of you? Customers expect communication promises to be honored. So, if you tell a customer you’ll get right back to them, do so within the hour. If you give a timeline of any kind, you must honor it. Making good on the promise is more important than the data, so be timely in your communication even if you don’t have the answer.

Here are five practical tips for using time to lower the cost of conflict:

  • Don’t commit to calling back by a particular time if there’s even a 20 percent chance that meeting a customer’s expectation isn’t possible. Once the customer has the expectation, their disappointment is just compounded if there’s a failure to deliver, which adds to the difficulty and cost of resolving the conflict.
  • Say what you intend to do. Set the expectation to be something with a high probability of being achieved, and then do it exactly as you said you would.
  • Set a reasonable expectation between you and the customer. Be honest about not having all the answers. Identify talking points and tell the customer what to expect.
  • Give the customer something they can count on. If the only thing with a 70 percent chance (or greater) of coming to pass is just one step in solving their concern, then let that one step be the promise for now.
  • Err on the side of “over-communication” when something goes sideways. Stay in touch.

Timeliness carries a specific gravity between people. The best thing you can do during a dispute with a customer is use timeliness to generate goodwill and buy more time to attain the best possible solution.