Why Companies Fail to Respond to Customers

Matt Beckwith is a huge Chick-fil-A fan. Well, at least he was until the company repeatedly failed to respond to a simple question about ice cubes.

Beckwith tried calling, but wasn't able to get a live person on the phone. So he turned to Facebook Messenger and sent a message on two separate occasions without getting a response.

As he wrote on the ICMI blog, his enthusiasm for Chick-fil-A has suddenly dampened.

Companies failing to respond to customers is an epidemic. Customer relationship management software provider SuperOffice emailed 1,000 companies for its 2018 Customer Service Benchmark report; 62 percent did not respond.

Social media software company Sprout has found that, on average, brands reply to just 1 in 10 social media messages from customers.

Surely we can all agree that not responding to your customers is a recipe for failure. So the really big question is, "Why don't more companies respond?"

Here are a few reasons.

Man waiting for a call to come through on an old, red, rotary phone.

Reason #1: It's Not a Priority

Most customer service leaders would say that responding to customers is a priority. But there's a big difference between saying something is a priority and actually putting the investment and resources into making it a priority.

Companies routinely fail to provide customer service channels with adequate staffing and resources. This is especially true with written channels such as email and social media.

For example, smaller companies often have phone agents handle email in between phone calls and other tasks. This workflow naturally puts email in a backseat position. Customer messages languish in a general inbox until someone has a free moment to check them.

Data released in 2017 by the consulting firm Execs in the Know showed that the customer service department does not have any ownership of social media in 49 percent of companies. The same report also revealed that 22 percent of companies don't train their social media agents.

Graphic showing which departments own social media.

Companies that truly want to respond to customers provide adequate resources.


Reason #2: It's Not in the Plan

Contact center consulting firm Services Triad conducted a survey of 32 contact centers in Quebec to see what actions they took to ensure they had adequate staffing. While narrow in scope, I believe the results mirror what you'd likely find around the U.S. and Canada.

One question asked contact center leaders whether they forecasted customer contact volume for various channels. This is critical, since accurate forecasting allows you to have the right number of agents available to meet customer demand.

The results were startling:

Chart showing percentage of contact centers that forecast volume for various service channels.

The data shows that 35 percent of contact centers have no idea how much email volume to expect on a given day. That number jumps to 66 percent for social media. These contact centers simply react to what they get. Many customer service leaders have told me their teams often get overwhelmed.

The same survey found that even the phone forecasts were lacking. For example, 56 percent of contact centers do not include time for customer follow-ups or callbacks in their schedules. Many contact center agents are closely monitored for how well they adhere to their work schedule, a practice which actually discourages responding to customers.


Reason #3: Automation

Automation has been offered as a solution to help companies respond faster to customers, but it's not without challenges.

Sometimes automation doesn't work. We've all suffered the embarrassment of trying to use the self-checkout kiosk at a store, only to need an associate to help us out. There are also plenty of examples of tone-deaf automated messages inserting themselves into social media conversations, like this one.

Other times it just feels cold. There's nothing like getting a boilerplate "Dear Valued Customer" email to make you feel like you are anything but valued.


Take Action!

I recently joined forces with my friend and customer service writing expert, Leslie O'Flahavan, to host a webinar to show you how to balance speed and quality when responding to customers. You can watch the webinar here:

7 Ways to Provide More Responsive Customer Service

It's a race to respond quickly to customers.

It's a race to respond quickly to customers.

Note: This post originally appeared on the AMA Playbook blog.

Customers expect responsive customer service. A 2012 Oracle study found that customers expect responses to Facebook and Twitter inquiries within two hours. My own 2013 study revealed customers expect a response to email within one business day. Customers often expect an immediate resolution via other channels such as chat, phone, and in-person.

Not responding quickly can be bad for business. It irritates customers, wastes time, and can ultimately lead to lost business. A 2013 Zendesk whitepaper estimated the cost of waiting one extra day to respond to a customer can increase the cost of resolving that problem by 66 percent. It’s a busy world out there, and responding to customers quickly isn’t always easy.

Here are seven things you can do to respond faster.

  1. Stop making excuses. It’s easy to excuse a delayed response because you were buried under an avalanche of work or something unexpected came up. Making excuses can also make being unresponsive a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you want to find ways to respond faster, don’t try to convince yourself that a delayed response is okay.
  2. Get a system (and use it). Our memories are notoriously poor at reminding us to return a call or send an email. (Little sticky notes on your computer are equally bad.) Get a system to organize and track customer communication, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, Microsoft Outlook, even an old-fashioned memo pad.
  3. Keep your email inbox clean. The typical email inbox is overflowing with messages. Important emails get overlooked and ultimately forgotten because the inbox is so crowded. Keep your inbox clean by making decisions about each message you receive. Respond immediately to simple inquires and create various folders to file away other messages for future reference.
  4. Manage expectations. Customers expect a rapid response, but they’re often very forgiving if they know up front it can take a little longer than normal. When things get busy, set up an automatic response to incoming email send a quick note to let people know when you’ll get back to them.
  5. Monitor all channels. Customers will often contact a company via multiple channels if one channel is unresponsive. For instance, they might Tweet about their problem if they don’t get a quick response to an email. You can avoid this by making sure you monitor all of your customer service channels on a regular basis. There are even software programs like Hootsuite that can make it easy to monitor and respond to multiple social media streams all in one place.
  6. Choose the right channel. Each of communication has distinct advantages and disadvantages, so choosing the right channel can speed things up. For example, it may be easier to schedule a phone call or a video chat with customers experiencing difficult problems rather than go back and forth via email.
  7. Align your schedule. Responsiveness often comes down adjusting your schedule to peak times. Keep track of when you receive the most phone calls, emails, and other messages? Adjust your schedule accordingly so you can put aside less urgent work during those times and respond faster.

Bonus Tip: Keep in mind that customers don’t just want a fast response – they want their problem solved as they expect responsive customer service. Try to help each customer on the first contact and you’ll gain two benefits. First, your customers will be much happier since they won’t have to contact you a second time. Second, reducing unnecessary contacts translates to a lighter workload so you can respond to people even faster.

The roofer's cup runneth over (or maybe he just lost my number)

No offense to the hardworking roofers out there, but most of us don't expect a lot from you. All I really need is a little honesty, some decent craftsmanship, and I'd appreciate it if you showed up within that four-hour window we talked about. Plumbers, electricians, painters, and all manner of handymen should be in this conversation too. You all provide a valuable service, work hard for your money, and do things that I can't do for myself. At the same time, some of you are sure making it hard to do business together.

How hard is it to get a quote?!
I thought I had struck the motherload when I started searching for someone to put a new roof on my home. A cool website called Improvenet had project estimators and a simple form you could fill out to get quotes. A roofer literally called me to set an appointment within one minute of hitting the "submit" button, so I was pretty psyched.

Over the next day or so, I tracked down several different companies who were willing to come out and give me a quote. I booked their visits into my calendar so I could spend a few minutes with each person and waited for the quotes to come pooring in... Four weeks later, and I finallly have someone scheduled. Well, almost. At this point, I could probably start my own roofing company (that is, if I actually knew how to roof).

Roofer 'A'
The guy who called me immediately was first on the scene. Let's call him Roofer 'A'. When I answered the door, he handed me an envelope and said, "Everything is in here. I've been doing this for 30 years, and I think you'll find we're competitive." I followed him outside and he looked up at the roof and said, "Yeah, your ridgeline is going. It will be about $7400 to replace the roof." He started heading back to his car as I followed him trying to ask questions. "It's all in the envelope," he said.

Roofer 'B'
The next guy, Roofer 'B', sent a guy named John to do the estimate. Compared to Roofer 'A', I was really impressed with John. He got up on the roof and immediately told me I only needed to do some repairs, but didn't need a new roof. John took the time to show me the problem areas and answered my questions patiently. By the time he left, I was hoping the quote from Roofer 'B' was at least competitive. Unfortunately, 10 days and a couple messages went by before I heard back from Roofer 'B'. When he did call and leave a message, he still didn't provide a quote, "Just checking in - are you still in the market?" It took a little more back and forth before I finally got a quote, more than two weeks after the visit. The quote was only $1,650 and not very thorough, so something told me I'd be in for many unpleasant surprises if I hired Roofer 'B'.

Roofer 'C'
John from Roofer 'B' was finishing up right about the time Roofer 'C' was due to come by. I went back into the house and picked up my voice mail. One message was from Roofer 'C' saying he had come by earlier that day. I was a little bummed because I wanted to meet him in person, but it wasn't the end of the world. His quote was. Roofer 'C' proposed a complete tear-down with all sorts of extras, coming in at a whopping $8900! I traded voice messages with Roofer 'C' for a few days before getting him on the phone. "Why did you propose a complete new roof while another roofer said I just needed a few repairs?" After a bit of fumbling, Roofer 'C' said I would need a new roof in 4 to 6 years, so I might as well replace it now. We discussed it a bit more before Roofer 'C' relented and agreed to furnish a quote for just the work I needed. The quote was $3,900.

Roofer 'D'
Roofer 'D' was a referal from a friend. He was pleasant and professional on the phone, but he didn't send his estimator over as promised. Fortunately, I hadn't planned to meet this guy, so it didn't interrupt my day, but I was still disappointed. I called the guy back the next day and this time he sent out Pedro within a few hours. Like John from Roofer 'B', Pedro was friendly, patient, and professional. He agreed with John's assessment that I just needed some repairs, but not a new roof. I was hoping not to repeat the delays I experienced with Roofer 'B', so I called Roofer 'D' a few days after Pedro's visit to ask for the quote. I finally got it a day or so later and even received a prompt call back when I had a question. This quote was for $3,850.

Decisions, Decisions
The roof isn't done yet, but I have told Roofer 'D' I'd like to go with him. We spoke this morning and he told me he had a full week ahead, but would call me this afternoon to schedule the job. "It's not an emergency," I said. "Just call me when you say you're going to call me and let's get this on the calendar and I'll be happy." Roofer 'D' said he could do that, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Lessons Learned
There are many businesses out there where we don't expect much in the way of service. If you work in one of those businesses, you can really stand out by simply being responsive and keeping your promises. If you can't serve your customers at a basic level, you just may be missing out on a lot of easy sales! (Yes, Roofer 'B', I'm talking to you!)