by Martin Grunstein

I’m a pretty good talker but there’s one situation I can’t talk my way out of!

“You lied to me last time so why should I believe you this time?”

So I make sure I never get into that situation.

And it’s not that difficult.

Yet the above situation is the most common cause of lost customers, even customers of long standing, and in the majority of cases they have no complaints with the company’s products or prices.

Despite all the time and money we put into product development, quality control, advertising, merchandising and other business activities, the major cause of customers deserting us comes down to little things like unreturned phone calls, missed deadlines and basically not keeping our promises.

And quite interestingly, this is almost always totally avoidable.

If you make a promise, you create an expectation in a client’s mind. If you create that expectation, you must meet or exceed it to maintain the relationship. If you fail to live up to it, you have no right to do business with them.

But most businesses put unnecessary pressure on themselves by creating unrealistically high expectations in their clients’ minds - then disappointing them.

Let me give you a relevant personal example.

It took me seven travel agents to organise my honeymoon a few years back.

The first six travel agents let me down so I refused to give them my business. The seventh travel agent had an easy job. I gave them the money they gave me the tickets.

In February, we were planning a three week trip to the U.S. for November.

I went into a travel agent and, after chatting, asked him to put together an itinerary for the trip. I had every intention of doing business with this travel agent. I told him I was in no hurry but the travel agent promised the itinerary would be ready the next Monday.

When I hadn’t heard from him by the next Wednesday, I rang him and he promised it would be in my hands by Friday. The next Tuesday I still hadn’t received it and that’s why I decided not to do business with travel agent number one.

He broke his promise to me twice and I didn’t trust his future promises when it came to looking after my travel plans. And that’s what we buy from people we do business with - TRUST!

But the crazy thing was that he put all the deadline pressure on himself. I even told him I was in no hurry. However, once he made a commitment to have the itinerary to me by a certain date, he created an expectation and when he failed to live up to it (twice, mind you), it all came down to “You lied to me last time, why should I believe you this time?”

Believe it or not, this happened on five separate occasions with five different travel agents. All made promises, put deadline pressures on themselves and failed to keep their promises.

The sixth travel agent abused me for suggesting a change in the itinerary after all the trouble she had gone to and the seventh travel agent got the money, did very little work and benefited from the ineptitude of the previous six travel agents.

May I offer some simple solutions?

Please ask questions as to the urgency of a task and, most importantly, if you take on the task, commit 100% to having it completed on or before the agreed deadline.

If the first travel agent, after asking questions, would have promised me the itinerary in three weeks, and delivered, I would have been totally satisfied.

I believe a lot of the problem comes from “Boy Who Cried Wolf” syndrome.
Sadly, we are so used to being let down that we often give artificially urgent deadlines so that if the task is completed “late”, we still haven’t missed our real deadline.

This doesn’t just happen in business either. Haven’t we all told certain people who traditionally turn up late to social events to be there at 7.30 p.m. if we want them there by 8 p.m.

But in business, it happens with internal as well as external customers.

For example, a boss needs a report typed for a meeting with his superior at 4 p.m. He tells his secretary he needs it by 1 p.m. because he knows she often fails to respect his deadlines but if he tells her 1 p.m. she should have it done by 4 p.m.

But what does the secretary think? “He always gives me fake deadlines. If he says he needs it by 1 p.m. he probably only needs it at 4 or 5 p.m. I’ll have it done by then”.
You know, a lot of internal and external customer relationships work that way. Who suffers? Everybody! It leads to fighting internally, usually with everybody blaming everybody else, and lost customers externally.

The solution is a few questions up front and a respect for your word.

If the boss and secretary agree to stop playing games and that the boss will never give the secretary artificially urgent deadlines and the secretary will deliver on time as long as the boss appreciates her situation and doesn’t expect everything at once. Perhaps the boss and secretary may work together in prioritising the urgency of the work he gives her freeing her from the responsibility of hitting unrealistic deadlines and being a mind reader with respect to which piece of work is the most important. With a little mutual respect, harmony should be the end result.

In the external customer situation, let’s ask a few questions to establish the real deadline for the task and find out whether we can deliver before we commit to the activity.

I would rather deal with a company that said I can’t do it by Monday but I promise I can have it done by Thursday than one that promised completion on Monday just so I wouldn’t go elsewhere and then failed to deliver on time.

I know where I wouldn’t go next time!

This same principle should apply to everything from a multi-million dollar order to returning a phone call.

Keeping your promises is not just good manners, it is the foundation for a business that wants to grow based on repeat customers. And all it takes is a simple understanding of the impact of time management on your customer service.

I challenge you to do two things.

Firstly, ask questions to establish realistic deadlines so you don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself and secondly, commit 100% to any promise you make.

A business that does these two things will have enough positive word of mouth, internally and externally, to be a leader in its field.

Martin Grunstein’s work with over 500 Australian companies across over 100 industries has made him the country’s most in-demand speaker on Outstanding Customer Service. He can help you get your time management to the point where your credibility is one of your company’s strongest selling points. He is contactable on (02) 96623322 or by email at

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Martin Grunstein

35 Cottenham Avenue
Kensington NSW 2033 Australia

02 9662 3322

0414 933 249

02 9662 4004