Free Customer Service Book Excerpt – When You Are Late

Perfect Phrases For Customer Service includes sixty tough customer service situations, and how to deal with them. It uses a series of dialogues, and explanations to show you what to do, and when. This is a sample.

When You Are Late or Know You Will Be Late


Being late for an appointment or meeting with a customer is not a good thing, but there are situations where you are delayed a) due to circumstances beyond your control or b) because you needed to do something for the benefit of the customer. Here are some tips on how to handle situations where you know you will be late or you actually arrive late.


¡ Apologize (1)
¡ Explain Reasoning or Actions (2)
¡ Empathy Statement (3)
¡ Offering Choices/Empowering (4)
¡ Providing Alternatives (5)
¡ Thank-Yous (6)


The employee realizes he is going to be at least 10 minutes late for a meeting with his customers because there was a delay in printing material  that is needed for the meeting.The employee contacts the customer by phone.

Employee: Mr. Jones, I’m really sorry. (1) It looks like I’m going to be about 10 minutes late to arrive because there’s been a delay in printing out the contracts we need to look at during the meeting. (2)
I’m printing them out now and shouldn’t be later than 3 p.m. (2)

Customer: Well, I’ve got the VP of Finance coming and I can’t have him sitting around waiting. I have to tell you I’m not impressed.

Employee: I can understand you are disappointed. (3) I had to decide whether to delay coming over until the contracts are done or to come on time without the contracts. (2) It seems like the best use of
time, but if you want to reschedule or if there’s any way to make this more convenient, I’m flexible. (4)

Customer: No, that’s fine.

Employee: If you want to go over the other reports while you’re waiting, maybe we can shorten the meeting. (5)

Customer: That’s a good idea.

When the employee finally arrives, this is what he says.

Employee: I have to apologize to all of you, (1) and especially to Mr. Smith (VP of Finance), for being late, and thank you for your patience. (6) [He then explains the reason for arriving late.] (2)


Most of the techniques used in this example are straightforward. The use of apologies (1), thank-yous (6), and empathy statements (3) doesn’t need additional explanation. Here’s what’s important. Even though the delay is “only” 10 minutes, the employee notifies the customer of the delay and provides an explanation of why he will be late. (2) Notification, even when you will only be a few minutes late, is always a good thing, because it demonstrates your concern for the customer and his or her time. If you look at (4), you will see the use of offering a choice to the customer.

He is offering an out so that if the customer needs to reschedule or cancel the meeting, he can do so using the opening the employee provides. In (5), the employee offers an alternative or suggestion as to how the customer might use the 10-minute delay to his advantage, recognizing that  the delay shouldn’t create dead time for the others attending the meeting.

Finally, when the employee arrives, you can see a repeat of the techniques the employee used when notifying the customer of the delay. The employee decides to explain why he is late just in case the people attending the meeting were not informed of the reason for the delay.

Author: Robert Bacal

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