Sometimes we hesitate to tell our customers news they don't want to hear. We think they might not like us or they might not do business with us again. So we procrastinate and slide into avoidance mode. It's a mistake.

This was brought home to me recently. A manufacturer promised a contractor that a specific model of their product would only be sold to
the plumbing trade. Yet, it showed up in a big box retailer's store. The contractor was mad, swearing up and down that he'd switch his business to a competing product.

He wasn't mad because the manufacturer sold to the retailer. They were already doing that. He wasn't even mad that they were going to sell this particular model. He was mad because he felt lied to. Your customers are the same.

It's far better to be upfront with your customers. When they ask, answer honestly. Don't withhold the truth. Don't tell your customers that
you're going to show up within two hours if you know you can't. Don't tell the customers something's going to be finished on Saturday when it's not.

Your customers can live with your response or they can't. You might be surprised how often they can live it. People are told what they want to
hear so often, that it's surprising when someone tells them something they know they won't want to hear. They'll respect you for it.

Sometimes you break a promise because of extenuating circumstances. For example, the manufacturer mentioned above may not be aware that this product is being sold in a home center. This may have been the result of a decision made by a wholesaler. If that's the circumstances, the manufacturer should quickly correct the problem and explain it to their customers. If it's not something that can be corrected, they need to come clean and explain the circumstances.

Service companies rearrange their schedules constantly. One job may run longer than anticipated, throwing everything else off kilter. Or, a true emergency may come in that disrupts the schedule. When it happens, immediately get on the horn to those who will be affected and explain. Be prepared to give them options.

For example, a broken pipe that's flooding the basement of a plumbing company's customer may require an immediate dispatch, affecting three other customers. Call each. Explain what's happening. Offer to either reschedule, keep in touch with them about the progress of the call and when you can get someone else out, or offer to locate another plumbing company that can respond right away.

Offer to call another company? Sounds crazy, right? Actually, it sounds like you're putting the customer's interests ahead of your own. It sounds like you're demonstrating customer care. It's unlikely that many will take you up on the offer. And those that would, probably would let their fingers do the walking without your offer.

Don't knowingly lie to the customer or withhold necessary information. When you discover that you unwittingly have lied, take corrective action. Prepare options, communicate the situation and the options with the customer.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.