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Why won’t you get back to me when promised?

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Shifting from technicalities and web development, today we are focusing on a different business topic – the impression you leave on potential customers when you don’t keep up communication. Here’s a story of our struggle when trying to become a customer and how we went from being ready to commit to looking for other options.

From a warm lead to cold disinterest

We are at the end of the new version of our nopio.com website and it’s time to bring some SEO specialists to make sure our content is not only informative for people, but also understandable for search engines. Since we haven’t used such services in the past, we decided to ask around our network. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t need to wait too long to get a recommendation. It seemed like a good one; plenty of SEO/SEM experience, an active speaker, and host of regular training sessions.

We decided to give it a try. We shot a quick email over describing what we needed help with. After sending an email on Friday morning, we received a response the following Monday, proposing a call to discuss the needs. A call sounded like the path to take, so we asked about the availability. So far, so good, but then something went wrong.

First of all, the contact went from a steady back and forth to stalled and infrequent. We needed to send reminders to actually get available time spots. Finally we agreed for a date and time, roughly a week in advance. Not a problem, we’re all busy and finding a suitable slot can take time. Finally, it all worked out and we exchanged calendar invites. This step proved to be a bit of a rough experience, but we decided to ignore the red flags and go with it anyway – power of recommendation.

Personally, I wanted to strike the contact from the list – what a waste of time.

Then the big day came; we sent over a reminder and shared an Uber Conference call. The response was a very surprising radio silence. We waited for some time on the line then called it quits. Personally, I wanted to strike the contact from the list – what a waste of time. At this point we figured maybe something went wrong, but started looking for backup options.

Finally, the next day we got an apologetic email stating that it wouldn’t be possible to have the call today (the day after scheduled time) due to travelling. At this point we went from interested to disappointed and unwilling to proceed. As a last ditch effort, I decided to send a polite summary of what had happened, asking if we could expect better treatment in the future. Sadly, no response till today (over a month later).

So, why write about this? I think it’s a great example of how not to deal with customers (potential or existing). There are multiple things that went wrong with the whole situation:

Customers should not need to wait

The initial response period allows for a little leeway when it comes to time. Anywhere between 1 work day and a weekend is usually an acceptable delay, unless a certain urgency is stipulated.

After the initial contact though, the dynamics change. In this particular experience, we should have never needed to ping our contact to remind them that we’re waiting for something that they should be delivering, especially something as simple as available time spots for the meeting.

…lack of communication or even ignoring a customer is certainly the quickest way to lose them.

Why is it bad? When it’s a situation where the customer is waiting for something, all of the responsibility falls to you, not them. If there is no need for further action from the customer, it’s likely they might forget about you! What’s even worse in our particular example, is the initial inquiry was due to a recommendation. This means it should be easy to close a deal with us, so lack of communication or even ignoring a customer is certainly the quickest way to lose them.

Mistakes should be handled properly

Issues in communication are not end of the world. We all know that no one’s perfect and mistakes are inevitable. The trick is to handle such situations in a way that shows us as a responsible party that is ready admit that something bad happened and offer a meaningful solution.

The biggest issue I have with the interaction is the lack of crisis management. I know that they may have missed the meeting due to unforeseen circumstances, but properly handling  a bad situation can do wonders to the relationship. Sending the apologetic email a day after missing a meeting is a mistake, but may still be salvageable depending on the customer. The subsequent lack of contact came across as very unprofessional. Even if your initial lead is lost, it’s still important to end your communication on a positive note.

In the event of a crisis, a company can utilize functional specifications templates to quickly develop a plan for addressing the issue, outlining specific technical requirements and guidelines for resolving the crisis.

Be respectful to customer time

This is an easy point to make, but is worth stating so it’s clear for everyone. The outcome of the story above is that we wasted about two weeks. Actually we lost another two weeks, if you include the other similar experience that happened just afterwards.

I’m not sure what exactly went wrong, but I can guess. For some reason, the parties we tried to involve in our project either had no availability, were not interested in taking on a client like us, or there was some other reason behind all this.

Frankly, I don’t think it matters what exactly the reason was. You should never waste someone’s time. Whether or not you are interested immediately, or are still considering a project,  ignoring the other party is not a good way of communicating. It’s really not that hard to say: “Sorry, this is not a great match for us, you should look for someone else”. It may be possible to refer some customers at the same time – even without taking on the customer, you can came across as friendly and useful. Always a good impression to leave.

Fortunately, this experience showed me why our customers are happy working with Nopio. Don’t get me wrong, we have failed at this in the past and I’m sure we will fail again, but it’s not about not failing. It’s all about what you make out of it. For me, and hopefully for everyone at Nopio, this provides an incentive to put extra effort not to leave anyone with impression we got after this brief engagement.

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