One of the most tragic stories from the Titanic disaster (and there were many) involves the Allison family: Hudson J.C. Allison, his wife Bess and their young children, Loraine and Trevor. Traveling with them was the family nurse, Alice Cleaver. After the collision with the iceberg, the Allisons and Alice Cleaver were in the Allison stateroom. All of a sudden, Alice took Trevor, and without telling Mr. and Mrs. Allison where they were going, left the stateroom. They got into lifeboat #6, and were later rescued.
Mr. and Mrs. Allison, however, had no idea that their son was safe. They therefore spent the rest of the time searching for him, even turning the chance of lifeboat seats for Bess and Loraine. They all died when Titanic sank, with Loraine being the only first class child fatality.
Failing to keep people informed in your work place may not result in consequences as dramatic as for the Allisons, but still can affect people. In fact, I'm kind of annoyed at a business associate right now. For the past couple of weeks, I have been seeking a resolution to an issue from this person, who told me just last week that an answer is forthcoming.
I called today, and the person's assistant answered. The assistant said that my business associate is out for the week (don't know if it's vacation or what), would be back next week, and that she (the assistant) had no information on the matter.
Failing to meet customer expectations ranks as a major cause of dissatisfaction. When reality clashes with what a customer expects, the result is frustration. Here are some situations to be aware of, and steps you can take to prevent this "expectations clash":
- Acknowledge your receipt of a customer call or e-mail request
Many support organizations, and help desk software, distinguish between "response" and "resolution." Make that same distinction yourself when you receive a voicemail or e-mail request. Think about it: the customer who contacted you is concerned not only about whether you will fulfill the request. He or she also has to worry about whether you even received the request in the first place. Taking just a minute to let that person know removes that one concern. To prevent confusion, be clear that you've only RECEIVED their request, and that you are or will be working on it.
- Recognize that "no news" is still "news"
Even if nothing is going on with respect to a customer issue, the customer still might like to know, if only to be reassured that you haven't forgotten the matter. In other words, the fact that nothing is happening still might be of interest. Think about letting that customer know if, for example, you're still waiting for a call from the vendor, or if the person who can answer the question is still out.
- Let the customer know when the problem is resolved
Don't laugh. Have you ever heard the song "Already Gone," recorded by the Eagles? One lines goes as follows:
So oftentimes it happens / that we live our lives in chains / and we never even know we have the key
That customer, whose problem is fixed, but who doesn't know about it, is like the person described in the song. If no one has told that customer, then to that customer the problem still exists. If we want that customer to know, and to become productive again (rather than sitting on his or her hands) we have to TELL that customer.
- Tie up "loose ends" before you leave for extended absence
Before you leave for vacation, take inventory of all your "open items." Are people waiting for a response or for action from you? Make sure they know you'll be gone, and more importantly what they can or should expect to happen (or not to happen). Consider giving the names of the people you have been contacting on their behalf, so that they can make direct contact themselves in your absence.
Keeping a customer informed helps manage expectations and preserve customer satisfaction. Don't be like nurse Alice Cleaver, whose failure to do so led to her employers' deaths.
Questions or comments? Contact me at email@example.com
Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.