A couple of weeks ago, I was making morning follow-up and connection calls to a number of warm business leads. You know, something that I along with most business owners do regularly. This particular day was off to a very pleasant start. There was a hint of spring in the air, so I had my office window open. I was sipping some wonderful tea. My puppy was chasing her tail just beyond my desk. I think I maybe even had a slight smile on my face as I listened to the phone ring on my first call of the day. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Then he answered.
“Hello #$%[email protected]&!,” the man on the other end of the line blurted out at me. Yes, he called me the mother of all swear words.
I believe my reply was, “Um, excuse me? Is this John?” I assumed I had gotten the wrong number.
“What do you want?”
Okay. I should have hung up right then. Forget that I was referred to this person by a mutual friend and business owner. Forget that I think we met once in person at a networking function. Forget that this man had actually emailed me requesting I reach out with some information.
“John, this is Blair Koch with TAB. We met a while ago. You asked me to call you,” I explained.
“Hah. Sorry,” he said. “I thought you were a solicitor.”
For very obvious reasons, my mood had shifted from joyful to jarred and annoyed.
“No, it’s me,” I reassured him. “But John, I could have been one of your customers. Or a vendor. Or an investor. I’m not a stakeholder in your business, but what if I had been?”
“Well, sorry. I just hate solicitors. They really are $#%&#@ #$%[email protected]&!s.”
Whoops. There he went again. It was time to say goodbye.
“You have a nice day, John.”
How Do You Communicate with Your Customers?
Words matter. This phone conversation is a true story, but perhaps an extreme example of how businesses can project the wrong or even toxic messaging to their customers.
Sure, John swore at me, which put me on my heels. It was harsh, but it was also a quick and easy dealbreaker for me. Based on his gruff communication, I was never going to work with this person.
But what about the slow burn of poor communication as it relates to your customers. Or no communication at all. Inattentiveness. Lack of follow up. There are even some business sectors that are notorious for taking a brash approach to customer service.
How long does it take customers to hang up on those businesses and move on to the competition? Because, make no mistake, eventually they will.
In all these cases, business owners’ poor communication skills, lack of self-awareness, and irreverence as it pertains to engagement, can irreparably damage their customer acquisition and retention. I mean, who wants to expose themselves to rude businesses owners or customer service reps? How long is it okay to be treated poorly? On a more passive note, how many rings or how much time on-hold will a customer sit through before they simply hang up the phone?
Looking back my story is sort of funny, but it is indicative of something much larger in scope. Poor business communication kills opportunity.
As business owners, words matter. And how we say those words matters. Responsiveness matters. Respect and common courtesy for our customers and other key stakeholders matters. Heck, I guess even the way we talk to solicitors matters.
I would like to think that our conversation was maybe a wakeup call to John. But probably not.
Blair Koch is the CEO of TAB Denver West, a TAB CEO Advisory Board Facilitator, and a Business Ownership Lifecycle Coach. Blair has spent most of her career helping small business owners achieve their personal and professional goals. She also hosts the Best Businesses in Denver podcast.