I’m frustrated right now because I’ve been calling several local companies for service and haven’t heard back from any of them. I’m trying to get on a schedule for tree pruning, and I’m also attempting to schedule a furnace cleaning and fireplace inspection. I’ve left four voicemail messages for one of these companies over a two-week period. I’ve persisted because I’m a repeat customer and was satisfied with their services in the past.
I understand that small businesses can get overwhelmed with consumer demand. Severe storms like we had this winter mean tree service companies, plumbers, and roofers are working overtime and can’t keep up with all the requests. Accountants, caterers and air conditioning specialists all have their high seasons, and any rational person understands a delayed response at certain times. But what’s going on with a business that doesn’t have a process for responding to service requests in a timely manner the rest of the time?
Joy Lanzaro, Director of Mediation & Compliance for the Diamond Certified Resource, sees the problem from both the consumer and business point of view. “We track all voluntary feedback, including complaints about non-responsiveness,” she explains. “Often, consumers are upset because they feel like their service providers don’t care about their business.” Sometimes, the problem is sheer volume during seasonal spikes, especially in bad weather. For example, one Diamond Certified roofer we spoke with was getting as many as 100 calls a day during the heavy winter rains! It’s hard for a small operation to keep up, and a large percentage of those customers kept dialing until they found someone else. In those cases, the person who left a message several days ago has already found someone else. It’s an assumption that comes into play with time management.
“Sometimes, the service provider calls back and the customer’s voice mailbox is full,” says Joy. “Occasionally, a spouse receives the call and doesn’t communicate back to the person who made the initial service request. And believe it or not, there are a number of consumers who forget to leave their contact information. They get wrapped up in the narrative of their service need and simply forget that they didn’t leave their phone number at the beginning of the message.”
Joy says it’s good practice to stick to a script when leaving messages so you’re sure to hit the critical data each time. For example: State your name; give a short, concise description of the service you need; slowly leave your phone number; repeat your name and number; and close by saying you’ll stand by for a return call.
Contractors have to prioritize calls. For example, an HVAC contractor will give seniors priority if their furnaces go out. Companies of all sizes can run into staffing emergencies like being short-staffed for a seasonal spike in call volume. That can have an impact on response time, too.
So, what are some strategies to employ to get return calls? Joy and I came up with a few ideas. Try calling in the early morning or late afternoon when the staff is likely to be in the office. You may also try reaching them by email. Ask the company to tell you either way if they’re too busy or if the job is too small for them. Mention your location and availability during the week—that way, if they have someone going to that area, they can schedule you as well. You may also make it clear that you’ll patiently wait for a call back from a quality company like theirs if they’ll give you some reassurance you’ll get scheduled. If you’ve called before, reference your previous call. For example: “Hello, I’m following up on my previous message and I’m standing by for a response.” Use a friend’s name who used the service and recommended them. Mention that you’re a repeat customer if that’s true. Say you’re calling because the company is Diamond Certified and that means a lot to you.
Companies need to communicate better as well. A few Diamond Certified companies employ the services of a call center, which means a live person always answers their calls. Another Diamond Certified company’s outgoing greeting asks the caller to leave specific information such as their service location and some dates and times of availability. They also inform each caller what their call-return time estimate is.
My personal rule is to be patient, up to a point. If I don’t hear anything after three or four messages, I know it’s time to move on and hire a competitor.