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The Second Worst Phone Call in Logistics

The Second Worst Phone Call in Logistics

There are some phone calls that you just don’t want to make.  In the logistics world, those phone calls typically involve shipments that are late, lost or costing much more than originally quoted.

The natural tendency is to avoid that phone call like the plague  You can hope the client doesn’t notice while you look for a good excuse or better yet someone else to blame.

I admit in a few weaker moments, I have tried all of the above and some other lame approaches.  Ultimately, as the logistics provider, it’s our job to move freight and communicate honestly and openly about the problems we encounter.

Your client will still be unhappy when they get the phone call about the screw up, but hopefully they will appreciate your honesty and transparency.

Make the tough phone calls and hopefully you can avoid the worst phone call in logistics which is:  What do we need to do to win back your business?

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25 thoughts on “The Second Worst Phone Call in Logistics

  1. Karen says:

    I know of a very successful logistics company that boasts that is pays to be first to bear the bad news.
    It is the nature of the business where nothing is written in stone and no one knows anything.

    1. joelynch says:


      Brave folks! With a motto like that, you know you are working with straight shooters.

      Thanks for the post!


  2. Laura Reeves says:

    Some of the best customers I have are the ones to whom I’ve given that kind of news. It’s not only about being honest, it’s about the effort made after the call to make the situation right. Lost freight? Find it. Damaged freight? Expedite the claim when it comes to that and work with the customer on better shipping practices–yours and theirs.

    1. joelynch says:


      From a client perspective, I think it makes sense to encourage sharing the bad news and not punishing the provider. When you punish the logistics provider for sharing bad news, the unintended consequence is they will hide bad news from you.

      Thanks for the insight!


  3. Dwayne Leverett says:

    I am involved in several Industries and I can tell that you advice is not just for logistics. Any client would rather find out bad news from their Relationship Manager, Account Executive or Representative rather than an indirect means such as an Invoice, AR Aging or being question by different Department of their organization.

    In addition be prepared with as much information as possible to provide reasonable outcomes of the situation. Even when giving Bad News it is important to manage expectation as much as possible. It will go a long way toward your creditably and help in keeping the business.


    1. joelynch says:


      You are dead on! I come from automotive product development, and sharing bad news is part of the culture. Hiding problems is definitely the old fashioned way.

      I appreciate the input!


  4. Jim Riches says:

    It used to be an everyday occurence a customer would ring to ask where their goods were and your excuse would be the truck broke down or its still on the queue at the docks.

    Ive noticed over the years is tell it like it is firstly then apologise for the delay and 9 out of 10 times the customer will accept the misfortune.

    The secret then is not let it happen again and ensure that customer gets his goods on time in future.With a little extra effort possible problems can be avoided by looking into future delivery schedules and forewarning clients of any problems they will appreciate it.

    1. joelynch says:


      So right about not letting it happen again. I think most customers are accepting, but when it happens again shortly after the first screwup, clients have every right to be mad.

      Thanks for the feedback!


  5. Ian says:

    I totally agree with you, they are the hardest calls to make. But at the end of the day it is important to be open and honest with your customers., they will appreciate it in the long run.

  6. joelynch says:


    Unfortunately, I had to make one of those ugly (truck is a day late) calls today. Client appreciated the follow up.

    Thanks for the comment!


  7. Joe Anzalone says:

    In my experience things seem to go better when you call the customer and tell him the shipment is going to be late, than when the customer calls you and finds out you’ve know it was delayed.
    Today’s online tools make it much easier to manage this level of detail.


    1. joelynch says:


      Right on! It is so much easier to call a client with a late shipment when you call them and you have all the information and a delivery plan.

      Thanks for the feedback!

      Your fellow Joe

  8. Debi B says:

    Yes, I totally agree with Joe. Working for a large CPG company in various job positions, I have made that call numerous times to our customers. Some of the customers being the largest customer in the U.S. Although at the time it was a difficult call to make, the customer at the end of the day is our top priority and they not only respect the company but also myself for being honest to them.

    1. joelynch says:


      The phone call is never easy, but I tell my team to psyche yourself up before you make the call.

      Thanks for the feedback!


  9. Hernani Roscito says:

    I also agree with you Joe when you say to be honest and fair with our customers. This is a daily challenge in our businesses.
    Congratulation for your insight and many thanks for sharing it with us.

    Hernani Roscito (Brazil)

  10. Jan Somers says:

    Thanks for this input,

    As a “consumer” of the forwarder business I can tell you that it quite often happens that our customers inform us about a delay before our forwardes do – I totally agree with your statement – please contact your customers with the first indications of problems – for me and my collegues the phonecalls of our customers asking
    “where is the material” are far more worse then getting it from the forwarder (accepting the fact “shit happens”).
    Allthough facing the same problem as you do – we prefer to call our customers instead of being called

    Jan Somers (Germany)

  11. Sudhir Menon says:

    I am from a manufacturing company and my production depends heavily on the logistics dates that I give based on the commitments from my shipping agents. I have noticed that just to get order bookings, agents give good sailing dates and when the ETD arrives, I get calls with excuses like – heavy congestion at the load port, gate was shut off, vessel birthing is delayed etc. A phone call informing delayed shipment disrupts the entire chain, production, packing, shipping to the end users.

    It can be debated to keep buffer days while informing the ETA, but as a supply chain department, we need to be more realistic. There is no way we can keep buffer / safe days as information has become so transperant, that every one knows how to track a shipment.

    Being informed about a delayed shipment is a bigger nightmare, that informing about a delayed shipment. It would take 10 minutes to inform about a delayed shipment and being vented @. Believe me the script takes off after this phone call…..

    Sudhir Menon

  12. Kahri says:

    Hi All – I’m in the shipping export industry: storage and packing facility for ore. As an example: to get our containers to the terminal, we unfortunately mostly are reliant on rail. And believe you me, all aspects of your personality and experience are tested to the extreme. And so, at times I have to inform customers prior to despatching containers to the rail terminal of difficulties foreseen either at the local terminal or at Port of Loading. Time constraints are of the utmost importance and in Africa it can often be a nightmare. Anyhow, my experience have been that customers at all times appreciate, though annoyed or irritated, you informing them of possible delays, as they deffinately can relate to their service provider being pro-active in forewarning. Obviously the customer expects you to inform them of “plan-B” as a solution to the difficulty ahead and where we are not always able to offer such, we then inform the customer, but and very importantly, we ensure that the customer is kept updated very frequently with the progress until such time that the shipment have been completed successfully – up and until point of control. Should all have failed despite extreme efforts, I found that the client very seldom threaten with changing to another service provider. And I think this then mostly based on the simple fact that a bit of “customer tuition” accompanies communication during the course of the specific scenario. Fill the customer in on a bit of technicalities typical of your industry and/or scenario at hand. Believe me, nine times out of ten, they appreciate it and find it interesting and maybe at the same time, understand better of the difficulty at hand. Comments?

    1. joelynch says:


      Thank you for comments. It sounds like you have a difficult challenge. It also seems you have built some trust with your client that is helpful when giving bad news.

      You might consider measuring the performance of the carriers involved. If your client recognizing that 20% of the shipments will be late, they may be able to adjust accordingly. That would also give you a chance to monitor whether things are improving or getting worse.

      Thank you for connecting.


  13. Iain Calder says:

    As a logistics coordinator for remote site operations, the dreaded phone call for me is usually to a site manager of a remote camp. These are the people who have done the ordering for the week and unfortunately the fault is at their end. Personally I find it best to work with them to solve the issue, rather than blame and criticise them for it as there is plenty of time to retrain and resolve problems after we have dealt with the more pressing issues at hand. I find that in this situation that your suppliers and freight company are usually more than happy to help rearrange delivery schedules for the week or do an emergency delivery as they want to keep the process as smooth as possible as it is in their best interests as well as ours. I definately think that honesty and effective and prompt communication is always the best in these situations.

    Iain Calder

    1. joelynch says:


      Great points! We all have different situation, but it seems there are some constants: an occasional bad shipment along with the dreaded phone call to the client.

      Thanks for the feedback!


  14. Dennis Hruby says:

    I have been that from the first day i started in this business 30 years ago . Ialways told people what we did wrong and i built the small company into bigger company but that was my way of doing business and is the same today . It is not something new but only something that works the best. I know sometimes it was worked easlily and sometimes not but I always knew I put forth the effort to make right with no BS . In the long run it was better. But is is not new just becoming a new thing now or again every thing goes around and againand again.

  15. joelynch says:


    You prove my point with your success!

    Thanks for the note!


  16. Muhammad Raheel Mujahid says:

    Muhammad Raheel

    I am working in Mining company & I faced the problem of supplying of raw material to a location where most of the logistics companies doesn’t want to go due to the road conditions. The client called me every week about the supply. I clearly told him about the situation. After a 24 days of struggle i than managed to find a company which agreed to take the supply to that location and the material reached in time frame of one month given by our client when placing the order.

  17. George Muha says:

    Joe, whenever I have to make those kinds of calls I always say the phrase, “It’s easier to eat crow that has just been killed then when its been dead for awhile.” Sorry for the gross analogy but an old mentor told it to me and I never forgot it!

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