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Have you been ‘ghosted’?

My thirteen-year-old daughter went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday at their favourite chain restaurant recently, and on returning home, I asked how the meal was. “AWFUL” she exclaimed, “they forgot half our order – even though we paid for it - and we had to wait for literally YEARS to get served.”

“Oh” I said, “And what did they say when you told them you were disappointed?”

“We didn’t. We just won’t go back. EVER.” And just like that, the restaurant was ‘ghosted’ by arguably, three of its biggest (albeit poorest) fans.

This happens all too often in business. For one reason or another, a seemingly contented customer disappears without a trace; phone calls go to voicemail, emails get ignored and we’re left to pick up the pieces of our broken relationship. We know we have done something to disappoint them, but they’re not sticking around for a moment longer to tell us what it was! Perhaps the disappointment runs too deep or they figure that they’ve wasted enough time on us already or they don’t think we really care. The truth is, like my daughter and her friends, they just want to move on quickly!

Maybe you under-communicated with them (or maybe, you over-communicated with them!), maybe your communication was too broad (and you lost your relevance) or maybe you left them feeling misunderstood. Maybe you underwhelmed them – or maybe you overwhelmed them! The truth is, we can guess all we like but we probably won’t really know unless we ASK.

So, how do you go about finding out what your customers really think? A red button with a downturned smile (the type you hit as you exit the loos at the airport – remember airports?) probably isn’t going to cut the mustard these days. That gives us an idea, but no real data to work from.

Today, corporate responsibility is about so much more than giving back to society; it’s also about ensuring every penny spent is done so after careful consideration, weighing up the pros and the cons and the likely returns of the possible ‘investment’ in order to ensure the business is profitable and that employees have a job come the new year.

Therefore, if customers are choosing to buy our products or services, we owe it to them to create easy opportunities and channels to tell us how they really feel. And if we can gather this information before they ‘exit’ the door or ‘ghost’ us, all the better. Creating these opportunities may help us to make amends before the relationship fizzles out.

Sending out customer engagement surveys is one way of gathering useful information. But bear in mind that you are putting the onus back onto the customer to take time out of their busy day to complete the form. If we’ve already disappointed them, why would they spend more time on us?

The most efficient way for us to gather feedback is whilst we are already engaging with customers in real time. Then, the customer is no longer constrained to answering specific questions on a form (which may or may not be important to them). During the engagement, we have processed their order, resolved an issue or helped them with something. But what happens next? Are your customer-facing employees ending every interaction in a meaningful way?

Here are our suggestions:

1. Summarise the interaction and agree any next steps – at Sandler we call this an Up-front contract.
2. Ask if there is anything further you can do to help them
3. Thank them for their time/ for getting in touch
4. Express your appreciation of their business and working with them
5. Invite them to contact you if they need anything else
6. Tell them that you look forward to speaking with them again
7. If on the phone, allow them to end the call first (we value their time over ours!)

And, if you want to gather some meaningful data and really improve your customer service, get permission to ask them one final question:

8. “I can’t promise I can magic this to happen, but what one thing could we do to improve your experience of working with us?”

Perhaps a spooky question to ask, but one that may just open up a valuable conversation - and keep the ghosts at bay!

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