Follow-Up and Why It Matters

Follow-up: I’ve talked about this before. Having spent 18 years of my life working in retail and hospitality, I’ve got more than a few opinions on customer service performed badly. Unfortunately, I’ve also found a lot of experiences that spurred me to express those opinions. Lucky for corporate America, today I won’t be naming names. I will, however, be providing examples of what I mean by “bad.”

What Do I Mean By Follow-Up?

When I talk about follow-up, I mean one of two specific behaviors in business:

  • Doing what you tell a customer/client you will do.
  • Responding when a customer/client contacts you.

Neither of these types of actions are particularly difficult. They seem like basics. And yet

Doing What You Say You’re Going to Do

It hasn’t just been me. Friends and family members in the last year or so have experienced situations where they were promised something simple from a customer service representative (CSR), like a call back or a refund or a replacement product…and the CSR didn’t do it.

Look, I realize the business world has become a mess. Different industries, such as retail and travel, have been under a great deal of stress since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And no one deserves to be abused, verbally or physically, for the way the do their job. Despite the stressful work circumstances, they’re still dropping the ball–or baggage–more often than would seem necessary.

Phone calls are a simple thing, as are voice mails. They usually don’t take long, and they’re a break (assuming you’re not a telephone operator) from the regular work grind. Yet it astounds me how often customers are left wondering what happened with their inquiry or complaint because no one returned their phone call. It’s sort of like saying please and thank-you: they’re not big deals, but they’re part of the social grease that allows human beings to interact with a bit less friction.

Depending on the original issue, lack of a return phone call might or might not result in immediate lost business. However, it is likely to happen in the long run because it earns a reputation for being undependable or unwilling to fulfill promises. Customers remember being annoyed because no one listened to them or took them seriously. That might not have been the non-caller’s intent, but that is how people respond.

Responding When Somebody Contacts You

We have a ridiculous number of electronic channels available for reaching other people. Just to name a few, we have:

  • Telephone
  • Voice mail
  • Text messaging
  • Instant messaging (usually tied to office networks)
  • Email/calendar invites
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) posting
  • Social media messaging apps

Why, then, is it so difficult to get people to respond on any of them? My typical frustration-generating situation runs something like this: I need to reach a specific person to ask if he or she can attend a meeting. I want to know if they are available and will they attend. Or sometimes I’ll want to know what happened to a customer service issue I wanted resolved. Simple questions. And yet…the person I am contacting does not respond, sometimes despite efforts to reach him or her through more than one channel.

Everyone’s busy. I get it. And yet there are a couple ways to address this issue that would not result in frustration for the calling party:

  • A text saying, “I got your message. I’m in meetings all day and won’t be able to respond until tomorrow.”
  • A response to a calendar request declining the meeting due to another commitment and suggesting another date/time.
  • An email explaining that the person I’d contacted was awaiting an approval from someone higher up in the business and would get back to me as soon as s/he heard from them.

Notice the commonalities–aside from making an actual response? The respondent offers an explanation for why they can’t talk at the time of the call/message, suggests a different time to communicate, and then (presumably, ideally) communicates at that time. As an extra bit of courtesy, some folks even apologize for being unable to take respond right away before offering the explanation and alternative. That’s another one of those bits of social grease that helps people get along.

We’ve got multiple methods of communicating when it comes to handling the minor courtesies of our business. For goodness sake, use them!

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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