By Andrew Neitlich

Avoid the top pet peeve in professional service delivery

By Andrew Neitlich

Today this blog takes the client/customer’s point of view again, as yet another web developer/IT Professional has disappointed me.

In this case the person in question promised to solve a problem with a web site in an hour.

Four business days later, I’m still waiting. No apologies, and I had to call him to find out the reason for the delay. He continued saying it was an easy fix, and missed yet another deadline. Again, no apologies, and I have no idea when he will deliver.


This happens way too often.

Please — don’t overpromise and underdeliver.

Does this sound too obvious? Take a cold, hard look at your own service delivery before you assume that you aren’t guilty in your own business.

Set realistic expectations with your clients, or they will resent you and question your competence. Now I cringe when I think of ever having to work with this person again.

And, if you are going to miss a deadline, call to explain why — before the deadline passes and before your client has to call you. Then reset expectations, and be ABSOLUTELY sure to meet them.

  • Very good point. I know I have been guilty of this in the past. (Slap my wrist!)

    Not much fun making those sort of phone calls, but I have found that if you keep your client “in the loop” they rarely get upset. Quite the opposite, they generally appreciate being notified.

  • SD

    Oh my god!
    I so just messed up with this – my circumstances changed so I was stuck for a week without being able to deliver and have had to run around apologising to clients for the delays – made me feel horrible but there was nothing I could do 8(

  • That’s a very bad behavior, terminate the contract if possible, never again at least.

  • If I miss a deadline I always start with an apology. I generally don’t provide a reason as in my eyes it looks like an excuse unless of course I have to change the original timeline.

    Query: I note you said that you cringe at the thought of working with this person again. Have you pointed out his lack of professionalism to him? Is that a course of action that you would normally take rather than ceasing to do business with such a person? (though in this case it seems you don’t have that option?)

  • myrdhrin

    My personnal experience has also showed me that if you know up front of the risks that could cause you to miss your deadline; make sure the customer/client knows about it and what you will do if they occurs (especially if the risk imply missing the deadline you set).

    This way, you can commit to a date you are confortable meeting and you can evaluate with the customer the impact of the other risks

  • moagw

    Very important message, should be shouted from the mountains.. Not simply in the webdev world either. Setting expectations INCLUDES the customer in the process of what the professional is doing. Whether it is small time or the big’s, not involving the customer in as many facets as possible is a big mistake. They feel as if they are somehow NOT in control. And no matter how we, the providers of said product/service, feel the one who writes the check is running the show. I think most providers realize that they are not the only ones who can provide this service/product and therefore try to accomodate anything and everything they can for the customer. But there are always bad eggs..

  • You are very correct with this entry, I’ve run into the same problem dealing with other web developers. They feel as though a schedule is more of a loose-set idea rather than something hard and exact.

    For this reason, I always tell clients things will take longer than they will. I’ve never gotten a compliant that I finished earlier than I said I would… ;)

  • Will Pate

    When I started my web/blog consulting business this was the biggest mistake I made. I’ve made a genuine effort to amend my own habits of waiting until I had a solution to even get back in contact, to staying in contact until the issue is resolved. The result: happier clients, better resolution time and I sleep well at night.

  • Very poor show on the developers part. Accurate project estimation and delivery is what keeps people in business. You mess that up and you mess up your income until you can prove to the industry that you’ve changed.

    Rule of thumb, estimate what you “know” you can do, add a percentage on top of that for unforseen circumstances. If you’re not the one doing the actual work, then get the actual developer to do the same and then hold them to it. Performance based contracts can “encourage” people to deliver on time, but you have to be careful its not at the expense of quality.

  • karunnt

    These small tasks are a great opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and show you care about your customers.

    My personal take is that this person either does not have a complaint resolution/change management process or thought it too trivial to use it in this case and simply forgot.

  • Dano

    We are not developers or designers. We are a firm on marketing communication.

    Recently, we were looking for a developer to leverage. He has studied at university as “multimedia designer”.

    I really didnt like him because i asked stupid questions and i received stupid answers (but he never knew that i use to read sitepoint, HAHA!).

    His latest words were: “i will send you the URLs where you can see my work”.

    Im still waiting!
    (and i hope he never call).

    On the other side, i have my friend Juan. He is a self-made designer. Not the best. He doesnt know all the secrets. But if he say “tomorrow” i know that its tomorrow. And if he say “2 months” i understand it too.

    WE SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAJE. Thats the trick. I try the same with my clients.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.