What’s keeping your customers from picking up the phone?

Have you ever got off the phone with a customer and thought to yourself, why didn’t they call sooner? Or, why don’t they let me know when such and such happens?

If you’ve had these or similar thoughts, it may be natural to want to blame the customer in your mind and think they must be disorganized or don’t have the time. But when your customer delays picking up the phone, or doesn’t pick it up at all, a small problem can turn into a disaster. For example, if you help them maintain a software system and they notice a problem with the software. Something that might be simple to fix, days or weeks later, becomes a challenge. Blaming the customer for not calling sooner may put your mind at ease that there was nothing you could have done to minimize the damage. But is that really the case?

Blame is counterproductive. Instead, you should talk with your customer and see if there’s a way to avoid repeating the situation. In the case of a software problem, ask them if they noticed anything suspicious in the past that you could use to help identify the problem in the future. If they were aware of something, ask how you can make it easier for them to let you know about it. You could even ask if there’s anything that is keeping them from picking up the phone sooner rather than later. They may admit they were overwhelmed and just didn’t have the time to get in touch. Perhaps you can act on that.

But don’t expect them to tell you the whole story. They may not even be aware of the full story themselves. You should consider what you need to change to make it more likely for them to pick up the phone. For example, how easy is it for them to get in contact with you? Do they have your direct number, or are they sent to a dispatch system? The harder it is for them to pick up the phone, the more likely they’ll feel they don’t have the time. Think about the last time you called your cell phone company and wound up on hold for half an hour. You’re not doing that to your customers, are you?

Sometimes it’s a psychological problem. It may be related to how you do business. Something that’s uncomfortable for your customer to talk about. For example, if you bill by the hour, every time they pick up the phone, your hourly rate crosses their mind. Why, because the clock starts ticking when you answer. They do a cost/benefit analysis every time they pick up the phone. It’s a bar in their mind, if they perceive their problem is below that bar, they won’t call. The higher the rate, the higher the bar. The smaller the customer, the higher the bar.

Monetary compensation is never going to be a conflict free conversation. That’s why I get it out of the way, upfront. I don’t want the psychological effects of money sabotaging the value I’m trying to create for my customer. I don’t want my customer to think twice about picking up the phone. Good customers are busy customers and when they need to call and have a minute to spare, I don’t want any obstacles in their way.

What obstacles are in the way for your customers? What may be keeping your customers from picking up the phone? What can you do to remove the obstacles?