An irate customer calls to inform you that if your service team’s current ETA is accurate, your technicians will not be able to work on the issue because by the time they arrive, well…you know the rest (hint: it’s not a pretty picture for your company or your service team). Do you (a) tell the customer to take a “chill-pill “— you’ll get there when you can; (b) try to explain that your way out of the situation; or (c) log-in to your system to reprioritize the service call, trying to determine which of your techs you should send and how you can disrupt your dispatch with the least possible damage.

The obvious answer is (c), but managers should be aware that meddling with the dispatch queue can cause a ripple effect that might, instead, sink the daily workflow ship.

Here are a few other options that might keep the boat afloat:

1. Teach Your Technicians to Reprioritize

With a well-trained service staff, this type of customer-service problem should be handled without your involvement. Your staff will call the customer and ask if the ETA is acceptable. If it isn’t, they will work with their teammates to find the next available technician. It is much easier for them to do this at the onset, instead of waiting until after they’ve given other ETAs that they will then have to change once you start meddling. Of course, you will have to customize your dispatching software to allow your reps to move calls around.

2. Check with the Tech First

Even with techs who know how to keep customers happy, you’re going to run into a scenario where they can’t meet a deadline. If your tech hasn’t had a chance to call you, and that irate customer call mentioned above makes it to your phone first, how you react is very important. These things never happen at a convenient time — you’ll probably be in an important meeting. The quickest way to deal with the problem is to go ahead with option (c) and hope that the daily workflow survives. It isn’t the workflow that you should worry about at this point. You’ve worked hard to build trust in your employees and the way they handle the daily service calls, and the quickest way to destroy that trust is to go over their heads and make command decisions. A phone call to the responsible tech will keep the trust and shed light on your next move.

3. Offer a Freebie

You’ve trained your service reps well, your tech says that there is no way to meet the customer’s demand and you’re staring at your phone wondering what to do next. It’s time to pull out the big gun: a freebie. Companies are in business to make money, but sometimes you have to offer free services or goods to keep a customer happy. If the customer is a time and materials account, then offer free labor; if they are on a full-service contract, offer a discount on the next invoice. You can write-off the lost revenue on your taxes and you’ll keep everyone happy.