Don’t make your problems your customers’ problems

don't make your problems your customers' problems // a little creative

We all have problems. As your reading this, it’s likely you’re dealing with something right now. Maybe it’s big, maybe it’s small; we all have them.

Have you ever worked with someone or purchased something from somebody who told you their problems without your asking? Did you ever take pause and wonder why they were telling you? Did you ever find yourself getting a little suspicious, thinking their problems sounded an awful lot like excuses?

Again, all of us have problems, and it’s not to say that any one person’s are more or less important than the next. However…

When you use your problems in a business setting as the reason for not meeting expectations or following through on your word, those problems quickly become excuses in the eyes of your customer.

Life throws us curveballs constantly and sometimes, problems come unexpectedly out of nowhere. Some people struggle with ongoing problems that are chronic and literally never go away, so much so that it becomes their new normal.

Whatever they are, you’ll likely encounter a time when your problems require your full attention and force you to make compromises elsewhere. The key to dealing with this pickle, however, is communication; early and often.

As I’ve mentioned the last couple months, we’re in the process of renovating our house, which has required me to deal with lots of different contractors and businesses—both product and service based. And from several of them, I’ve heard these problems:

Business A

“Your order was originally scheduled to ship on the 18th, but we’ve gotten a lot of other orders so it’s still in production.”

This was after I called to inquire on the 19th…

What should have happened:

At first notice that my order was not going to ship on the expected (and originally communicated) date, they should have placed a phone call to inform me as such. I didn’t need to know about everyone else’s order, nor did I care. A simple, “We apologize for the delay, your order is running X days behind and will now ship out on X date.”

Don’t leave it up to your customers to have to inquire beyond the date you committed to.

Business B

“I’ve been so busy and having trouble providing the level of service my clients deserve, so I hope your decision [to select another vendor] wasn’t based on waiting on me.”

It was..

What should have happened:

This company should have said “No” to some jobs or booked them several weeks or months out. Saying “Yes” to everything is either greedy or irresponsible; possibly both.

Committing something to your customers then ghosting on them is never a good idea. You leave them no choice but to select another provider.

Business C

“I can’t get someone back on the job until next Wednesday because I’ve put them on another job.”

This was the previous Monday…

What should have happened:

Say “No” to some jobs or book farther out. Don’t sacrifice current customers you’ve already said Yes to.

If you agree to deliver something by a certain date, do it, plain and simple.

And if you can’t, don’t wait until after you’ve missed the date and make your customer inquire about it. That looks devious and makes people question a) your integrity, and b) whether or not you consider them a priority.

Business D

“My wife has a renal vascular appointment on Tuesday and I have a colonoscopy on Wednesday, so Thursday is gonna be the earliest I can get there.”


What should have happened: 

Let me preface this by saying I am BIG on making your personal life a priority, especially when it comes to your health. However, there is such a thing as too much information.

In business, a general “doctor’s appointment” is descriptive enough, particularly for those you don’t have a personal relationship with.

As you might imagine, from where I sat, these sounded far more like excuses than problems. And while I understand that in this particular situation it’s construction and shit happens, I didn’t understand why these people, that I was paying money to do a job, were using their problems as excuses for poor quality and/or service. In my book (and my bank account), that is never ok.

In order to remain problems, they should be communicated long before you anticipate them causing conflict.

Conflict turns problems into excuses. 

You might be reading this thinking, “Duh, this stuff is common sense.” But as my therapist used to remind me: common sense is not common to all people and not everyone thinks like you do.

Perhaps you yourself have also been guilty of turning a problem into an excuse by failing to communicate. It’s not novel and I’d bet we’ve all done it at one time or another; me included. But being in business for yourself, it’s vital that this is not a common practice.

Hard conversations are just that; hard.

Most of us want to please people and have a desire to not just deliver, but over-deliver in an effort to delight. But I think we can all agree that what’s not delightful is having a customer be angry with or disappointed in you, especially for something you did. When you have some policies in place however, to guide how these things will be dealt with, they’re much easier to handle.

Here’s some easy to implement tips:


Set dates for when you’ll deliver things and also for when you expect the customer to deliver things, be it feedback, information, or something else. Schedule the shit out of everything, even downtime if you need to.

Then when something comes up that might affect those dates, talk about it. Don’t wait until they’re already affected—bring it up when there’s even a slight possibility.

For example, if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold and might not make a deadline if it gets worse, make it known now; ask for an extension and discuss it. Don’t wait until you’re bedridden and dying, have already missed the deadline and then have to grovel for forgiveness.


Say no to new clients, new projects, extra requests—just stuff. My experience is that everything takes at least twice as long as you think it will so plan accordingly and give yourself some breathing room.

Saying No to others allows you to say Yes to yourself. 


Encourage two-way communication with your customers, even for difficult conversations (life isn’t always puppies and rainbows), so that when the time comes to eat the frog, the frog isn’t so big.

Let your customers know they’re a priority, right from the start. Respect their time just as you want and expect them to respect yours.

Make people believe that they mean more than just the money they’re paying you.


…but also consider what may be TMI. Say a friend calls you last minute with an extra Beyonce ticket for Tuesday night, but you promised something to a client first thing Wednesday. Call your client and tell them what’s up and ask for the extra time you need. Sure, they can say no, but if you’ve been forthcoming all along, chances are good they’ll not only give you the extension but wish you well in taking it too!

The smallest of problems can turn into mountains if you fail to communicate around them. And most problems, despite their size, can easily be solved with some creative thinking and time, both of which you have to allow yourself.

So next time you have a problem that affects your work, don’t make it an excuse for poor service. Listen to the stories you’re telling yourself and consider what you could have or can do to keep your problem(s) your own. Your customers will thank you. And you may even surprise yourself.

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