When customers complain about late delivery

If you find that customers are complaining about late delivery, then normally there are three possible issues causing it:

1. You have not set their expectations properly

This is a common fault often caused by the business failing to look at something from the customer’s point of view.

For example, one of my clients was an e-commerce business that sold designer furniture. They sourced it from all over the world and sold it to international clients. To minimise costs, the furniture was only ordered from the manufacturer once a customer had placed an order.

This meant that there was an extended period of time before the customer received the goods, and the firm promised 6 weeks delivery. However, what they meant by that was that it would take 6 weeks to reach their premises from the manufacturer, when they would inspect it, repackage it and ship it on to the customer. This meant that actual delivery time for the customer was 9 weeks and, not surprisingly, many of them complained about late delivery.

The firm had done this because they felt that customers would not order if they knew it would take 9 weeks for delivery – but, by not setting expectations properly the firm was suffering from high levels of complaints and a lack of repeat orders.

We changed the expected delivery time to 9 weeks but added an explanation to show that it was because the firm took the time to inspect the goods to make sure they were perfect. The conversion rate from website visits to orders doubled because customers understood that they were paying for, and were prepared to wait for, a high quality product and process. Complaints about late delivery virtually vanished.


Review your marketing material and product descriptions from the customer point of view (always ask yourself – what would a customer who has little or no knowledge or our product or service, understand by this?). Make changes if you feel a customer may find something confusing or misleading.

2. You have third party suppliers who are letting you down.

To be fair, this is related to the first point about failure to set expectations – but often this is because third party suppliers are failing to meet your expectations.

This could be someone who supplies something you need for your product or service, which results in you sending it to the customer later than expected, or it could be that the third party you are using for delivery just is not as reliable as they claim to be.

If the issue is that you are being let down by someone supplying to you, there are three possible solutions:

  1. Change supplier to someone more reliable. Cost may be an issue but weigh up any increased costs against the cost of handling and resolving customer complaints. Often you will find that a more expensive but more reliable supplier will work out more cost effective for you in the long term.
  2. Work with the supplier if possible to agree service standards if you have not already done so. During this process, you may find that they just cannot deliver in the timescales you have assumed when advising the customer of delivery times – if that is the case then:
  3. Extend the expected delivery times to the customer. Make sure that, if you do so, either you are still in line with your competitors or, if not, that you have a good explanation/story why the customer has to wait.


Wherever possible, have agreed service standards with external suppliers.

If the problem is that you use a third party for delivery, trying to negotiate service standards with large, national delivery companies will be a nightmare so do not bother!

Instead, try different ones (several at a time) and track the percentage of deliveries that are made within the promised timescale, then settle on 2 or 3 that you use regularly (do not just pick one as you will have to start again if they start experiencing difficulties!). Ask other business owners who they use to build your initial list.


Do not put cost ahead of reliability when choosing a company to deliver your product or service.

3. Your internal procedures are letting you down.

The final possible cause for complaints about late deliveries is that you are dispatching items late because parts of your process take longer than they should.

To minimise this happening, you need to create a process map from order to delivery, showing all the steps and which departments or people are involved for each step.

The next step is to get everyone involved in a room to review the process map and discuss how long they take to do each step and what the handover process is.

This means that everyone involved has a full view of the whole process. The next step is to agree service standards between each department for every step in the process. The service standard should include time. That will give you a clear picture of how long the process will take from start to finish. You should also find some opportunities to improve efficiency!

The final step is to make sure that you can achieve the timescales you promise the customer. If you cannot, then change them!


If you have more than one person or department involved in the process from order to dispatch, you need to have a clear set of service standards and a map of the whole process so that everyone knows what their responsibilities are and how their work impacts others.

If you have an accountant, they should be your first stop for business advice. If you don’t have an accountant or they can’t help, BuBul has a wide range of experts available. For more business advice why not follow BuBul on LinkedIn?