When A “Courteous Follow-Up” Is No Longer A Courtesy

ringing phoneThere are some days where I feel like it’s a battlefield of communication where emails and phone calls come whizzing at me with more force and fury than actual bullets. I try and put up a good shield by opting out of junk mail as quickly as I seemed to get signed up for it, but this is far from a fix-all solution. Inevitably, unsolicited emails and phone calls hit me on a daily basis. Though they take merely minutes of my day to digest and dispose of, this time adds up as does my overall feeling of annoyance and agitation. In the last few days I took note as to where most of these communications were coming from and I was surprised to find that they were often the byproduct of a “courteous follow-up” for a recent account I created or order I purchased. Why was my time being wasted and inbox being inundated with so much junk that someone somewhere thought I actually wanted to hear about?

These “courteous follow-ups” I experienced couldn’t have been further from a courtesy. They were providing me with information I already knew, promotions I wasn’t interested in and taking up extra time and energy I didn’t have. Follow-up communication especially with new or potential customers is a tricky balance. You want to appear excited and helpful, but you need to also know when to get out of the way and give the customer some space! I feel like there needs to be some rules of common courtesy for “courteous follow-ups.” Even if they’re just a friendly guideline or a desperate plea from customers all across the globe, businesses should really take note as to how their marketing efforts may actually be turning off their customer base. The following are simply my own “courteous” contributions to this proposed guideline – and with any luck they may just save some businesses a phone call, an email…and a customer.

Offer an “opt-in” for customers to initiate further communication

I don’t like that the norm is for people to have to opt-out of being contacted. Sure, this makes it easier for businesses to build their email list because they bank on people not taking note to that tiny check box, but if it’s happy and engaged customers you’re looking for—this tactic isn’t going to provide that for you anyway. Allow me to opt-in and put your effort into creating a compelling reason why I should. Will this newsletter offer me exclusive discounts or news on something I’m interested in? If so, I’ll likely sign up on my own free will and stay subscribed much longer than if you did it for me.

Allow customers to specify their communication preferences

I’m an email communicator and I make no effort to hide this preference even with my clients and other contractors. Email is the best way to reach me and the way I feel least intruded upon. When I receive a call from a number that’s not in my phone book, my immediate reaction is “this better be an emergency!” And I promise you it rarely is. Never do I find a courteous follow-up call a courtesy – I find it a nuisance. Either I pick up and am forced to talk to someone for at least a minute or two (which takes much more time than deleting an email) or I screen the call and am forced to listen to a voice mail at a later time. The bottom line is I’d like to be given the opportunity to voice my communication preference and only if I already opted-in to be further contacted. That is what I would consider a courtesy.

Never take up any unsolicited amount of someone’s time

I always appreciate a phone call that starts with “Are you available for 5 minutes to talk right now?” It prepares you that someone only wants 5 minutes of your time and is not assuming you have that much time to give them at this very moment. A courteous follow-up email or phone call should not ambush someone and steal any amount of their time. First, it should always be solicited by means of allowing someone to opt-in to future communication. Second, it should be courteous enough to be scheduled at a time that’s most convenient for the potential customer. I can’t convey the depth of my annoyance when I realize I accidentally picked up the phone for a long-winded telemarketer when I’m actually waiting on a very important call.

Be sure the message is meaningful and adding value – not wasting time

This might be the most important guideline to follow out of them all. Whatever type of follow-up communication you’re pushing out to your customers, make sure you’re offering them something new, something of interest to them specifically or something that adds value. For example, when I create a new account on a photo printing web site, I don’t need a welcome email simply thanking me for signing up. If this email was to offer me a coupon or contain important login information for my account that I should save, then that adds value. Any courteous follow-up, whether it’s a phone call or an email, should offer the customer something beyond just wanting to say hi. It goes without saying that a business would be happy a new account was created with them; don’t waste your first communication with a potential customer on stating what can be assumed.

Say it once and let it go!

The example of creating a new account on a photo printing web site can also be applied to this final guideline. Once I create an account and get through the onslaught of “welcome” and “how can we help you” emails, I don’t want to also be bombarded every week with an email reminding me that I have an item left in my shopping cart or an unclaimed promotion. Receiving this reminder once is a courtesy, receiving this reminder weekly is a nuisance.

What are some of your biggest pet peeves regarding courteous follow-up calls and emails? Do you also feel bombarded or ambushed with unsolicited communication? Share what’s the most effective to reach you or what turns you off completely. You might just help to save many other businesses the wasted effort they put into wasting our time.