When the Waitress Forgets About You

Picture this.  You walk in to a restaurant.  The hostess seats you.  You look at your menu, decide what you want, and then realize that no one has come over yet to take your drinks.  You wait some more.  At this point, you further realize that you have been forgotten about.  There was some mix up between the hostess and the waitress (or, host and waiter, so as to not gender-discriminate).  Hungry, angry, and a little embarrassed, you have to flag someone down and find a polite way to say “what the hell, you forgot about us, way to start off on the right foot.”

I’ve only been out to eat twice in the past two weeks, and this exact scenario has happened to me both times.  It’s frustrating to sit around waiting when you’re hungry, however it’s understandable when the place is super busy and you’re waiting because the waitress is overworked.  Just a quick “I’ll be right with you guys” is all I need to know that she’s got the situation under control.  This scenario is much worse because you seem invisible to them.  You won’t get helped unless you say something, which sucks.

I think this also has parallels to email support in the online world.  When you pay good money for a service or product and you have to contact the company you just want to know that there’s someone on the other end.  Myself in particular, I will only contact a company if I’ve done everything that I can to solve my problem.  When you then send an email and hear nothing back you begin to wonder.  A day or two goes by, and you start to think “did I send it to the right email address?”  or “is a response stuck in my SPAM filter?”  Of course, it never is.  And if your problem is important enough, you have to email again or call, and that’s just as annoying as having to flag down that waitress.

When you’re the business owner, there are a few simple things you can do to be sure that your customers never experience this.  First and foremost, send an auto-reply to anyone who submits a question through your contact form.  Assure them that you received their inquiry and that you’ll get back to them shortly.  Secondly, answer every question within a day max, most of the time sooner.  If you’re waiting on something for an answer, send an email stating that you don’t have an answer but you will in a day or two.  If there’s a question from a customer in my inbox, that immediately takes precedence over any other email or any other task.  Without customers the business wouldn’t run, so that new web feature I was working on wouldn’t be of much value.

This really isn’t that hard.  It doesn’t require that you sit in your inbox all day long or that you can’t get other work done.  Just that you respond in a timely manner just like you would want someone to respond to you.

Update: a few hours after writing this post I had to call our hosting company because they hadn’t done something simple that they said they’d do.  Turns out it got lost in the shuffle and wouldn’t have happened had I not called.  I understand everyone makes mistakes, but as a business you really have to do your best not to let your customers get forgotten about.

5 comments on When the Waitress Forgets About You

  1. Anthony says:

    Heh. Agreed.

    And although I know this was just a sidebar to your main article, a comment about hosting – Rackspace’s “fanatical” support is worth every penny extra we pay for it. Not only can you get someone on the phone, via ticket, or pretty much anywhere you want, but they will even help you with issues that they are not contractually obligated to most of the time, like operating system questions, software installations/upgrades, etc… You begin to realize that what you’re paying for isn’t hosting; you’re paying for peace of mind, knowing that you won’t ever have to wait, worry or be forced to deal with an issue that is supposed to be your hosting company’s responsibility.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Anthony –

      Ironically LiquidWeb has had what I consider A+ customer service similar to what you describe for 2+ years and then the last few tickets I’ve had some trouble getting things done in a timely manner. We’ll see how it continues, but I certainly could see a move to RS at some point (or maybe a partial move to test the waters). I know enough people like you who have had great experiences with their support. I used to have that peace of mind you’re referring to but it’s not all the way there right now. Hopefully LW redeems themselves.

  2. Tim says:

    I’ve dealt with a number of server companies over the last year and any of the premium companies are GREAT. The only ones that really seem to jerk you around are the super cheap shared or VPS server packages. Every experience I’ve had with tech problems when dealing with a premium server/hosting company has shocked me how they rise above and beyond. One companies technician even told us that if we have any sort of IT questions don’t hesitate to ask, pretty much he said if we continued to pay our bill on time they would do literally anything in their power to keep our business. Very reassuring in an age when it’s so easy to become just a number or to be forgotten about all together.

  3. Rob says:

    I think what you’ve said here applies a lot to business. It’s all in the follow-up really; plenty of times the way to selling, or great customer service is following up in a polite and timely manner – to remind the customer that they haven’t completed their purchase, or to ask if they are now satisfied with the service. It’s stunning how many people we meet and exchange business cards with who never get back to us, never email, call or even do anything. Why did they offer to swap cards if nothing was going to come of it? What’s the point?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      I think people prioritize the wrong things with their business. Other people – customers, partners, vendors, etc – are what inevitably make or break your business, so cultivating those relationships needs to take precedence over other everything else. And to your point, just showing people that you care about them makes a world of a difference because seemingly most people don’t.

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