When is Now?

September 2, 2021

Have you ever walked into a restaurant, been seated, and had the maître d tell you, “your server is coming over now to take your order”? And then had to sit there for 5-10 minutes while you are dying of thirst waiting for someone to serve you and still no one is coming? It’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it?

Have you ever told your loved one, “I am leaving work now,” but you don’t leave work until later because something came up, yet you did not call him/her to say you will be late? Think about the friction you caused, when they were nice enough to prepare you a meal, only to have to reheat it over and over.

Have you ever told a customer, “the truck is coming now,” only to have the truck not leave until an hour later, resulting in it arriving behind schedule? They were probably disappointed that their expectations were not met and they were never updated.

Why is it that these situations and many more like them, when you tell people now, cause so much stress and aggravation? The answer is simple: When is now?

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of ‘now’ is “at the present time or moment.”

Yet so often, we fail to understand the true meaning of now and the expectations we set forth when we say it. We need to realize the effect we have on other people and their businesses. As a company, our #1 priority is the customer experience, and we control that experience. We have the responsibility and the opportunity to make that experience a great one.

A great way to approach this is with the mindset that the best defense is a great offense. If you set accurate expectations for the customer, and proactively communicate if anything changes, then you will not be playing defense with a customer calling surprised or upset. Although everything doesn’t always go according to plan, communication can help ensure that the customer still has a good experience, even when something changes. Part of this communication is being conscious of how we use the word now.

If you say you’re going to do something now, do it now. If a customer says they need something now, try your best to do it now. And if you can’t do it now, keep the customer’s best interest in mind.

Make sure you clearly communicate with them, manage their expectations, and do your best to still make that customer experience a positive one.

So next time a customer says they need something now, or you tell someone that you’re doing it now, stop and ask yourself… When is now?

The Customer Service Ripple Effect: What Happens When Now Doesn’t Mean Now

We have all been in a situation where time is of the essence and yet we’ve lost sight of the other person’s expectation of now.

Imagine that you tell a customer that the truck is leaving now at 8 am with their delivery. The customer knows that the warehouse is 30 minutes away so they make sure their employees are prepared to unload the truck at 8:30-8:45, maybe 9 am the latest, and they tell the employees that they’ll be able to go to lunch at 11 am. At the same time, the customer has a wholesale customer that says, ‘I need a box of string beans for my lunch trade.’

The owner of the store says, ‘Sure, the truck will be here by 9 am so you can pick it up by 10 am with plenty of time to prepare it for lunch.’ The wholesale customer comes back at 10 am and the owner says, ‘I am sorry, the truck is not here yet, let me check.’

They call you and your response is, ‘I apologize, there was an issue, the truck just left now.’

Obviously upset, the customer hangs up and tells the wholesale customer, ‘I am sorry, the truck will be here by 11 am. I will bring it to you so you can prepare it for lunch.’ The wholesale customer asks, ‘Are you sure?’ The owner replies, ‘Yes, I am sure.’

11 am rolls around and the truck still hasn’t arrived to the customer. The employees were promised an 11 am lunch so they leave for lunch, the customer who ordered the string beans continually calls and finally says, ‘Never mind, I will give my business to someone else.’ Finally, the truck arrives. It turns out that the truck really left at 10:30 am, got stuck in traffic, and arrived to the store at 11:15 am. Now the customer is upset, the truck is not getting unloaded because the employees went to lunch, and to top it off, he lost a $1,000-a-week restaurant customer.

And why? Because now didn’t mean now.

What if you had paused to think before telling the customer now? Think of how much better the situation would have been if you originally told the customer that the truck would be leaving soon and arriving sometime this morning, and that you would call again to confirm exact timing once the truck actually left?

The customer might have sent his employees to lunch earlier, would not have promised the restaurant customer the string beans, and all this could have been avoided.

We all need to understand this and set clearer time frames for people we interact with so that we are setting ourselves up for success. And more importantly, when we set clear expectations, we earn respect and trust, and set our customers up for success too.