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.