How to Communicate a Shipping Delay to Customers

Much of the U.S. is in the midst of a “polar vortex,” which is causing significant delays in air travel. The extreme temperatures are resulting in delayed ecommerce shipments due to freezing aircraft and treacherous road conditions.

Some retailers, including and, are attempting to properly set customer expectations by proactively notifying site visitors, either on customer support pages or product detail pages.

But despite the best efforts of retailers, if mother nature throws a wrench in shipping plans there is little that can be done to control the last mile of the online shopping experience.

Chris Vodola, client development manager here at StellaService, has the following tips for customer service teams that need to communicate a delay in shipping to customers.

Emails are easier; phone calls are higher touch. With ecommerce purchases, customers expect most communications from the retailer to be done in the same medium. Depending on the severity of the delay — number of customers affected, dollar value of the order, etc. — always consider calling customers about delivery issues in addition to an email. Consider the speed with which an issue can be resolved for your customer when discussing solutions in real-time.

Be apologetic. This might seem obvious, but a sincere mea culpa will go a long way when accompanied by reasonable explanations for snafus.

Be transparent. Customers can often tell when they’re being given a vague reason for a problem, or worse, when they’re being lied to — delivering explanations in real-world terms helps them relate to what went wrong, and why.

Deliver solutions with options. The old adage “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” holds true with delayed ecommerce shipments. In some cases, consider giving your customer those choices on a platter and let them make the call on how to bring an unsatisfactory issue to a close. “Would you like to wait until your shoes become available again and we’ll overnight them to you? Or, would you prefer to cancel the order and receive a 10% credit on your next order?” Choices such as this can quickly change the customer’s mindset from being the victim to being in control.

Under-promise, over-deliver. Make sure you keep any expectations for a quick resolution within reason. You’ve already disappointed the customer once, so don’t do it again by making promises you cannot keep. On the flip side, a loyal customer knows that your estimated 20-day delivery is probably padded, so don’t go crazy with the under-promise, over-deliver strategy.

Over-communicate. Keep your customer abreast of progress as you work toward resolving their issue. If goods have finally changed hands from a third-party vendor to your warehouse, tell them.

Treats are nice, but they’re the final step. Sending goodies along such as the ol’ 15% off coupon code are nice, but if they’re sent along without a proper apology and straightforward plan of how the issue will be resolved they might come across as a weak and phony attempt to keep the shopper spending on your site.

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