Archive: Saying nothing in a crisis hurts much more than it helps — from the Career Opportunities Podcast
If you want to anger, frighten or infuriate someone, often the only thing you need to do is remain silent. Failure to respond to questions, support requests or complaints allows the client/customer to think the worst about you, your skills and your services. Yet, this is exactly how some companies, and their workers, function from day-to-day. For the sake of your own career, you need to avoid the silence or you may just find yourself out of a job.
If you visit my web site (http://welchwrite.com) to read my blogs, you may have seen mention of the web hosting problems I was having recently. In fact, just yesterday, I moved to a new company in the hope of finally solving my problems. Having been on both ends of the telephone during my career, both providing tech support and utilizing it, I am always quick to notice when things are not quite right. Of all the issues I have had with this company, though, silence is probably the worst.
When you are in the depths of a technical problem, silence is the last thing you want to hear. Even bad news is better than no news at all. Think of the extreme example of waiting for a doctor’s diagnosis when you are ill. In the most recent case, my web site was down for over 36 hours. During that time, email requests for information were ignored and calls to the support phone lines only provided the information that “They are working on it.” There was no further information — no estimate for how long until service could be restored nor even an explanation of what had happened. Left to my own devices, I did what most people would do in this situation — I thought the worst. This is quite natural in the absence of any information. We start to worry that we will lose all our data or that service might never return. We start spinning scenarios of all the work we will have to do to get us set up and running once more.
As a worker or business owner, you need to be aware of this behavior and how it can damage your relationship with your customer or your management, sometimes irreversibly. I know, we think to ourselves sometimes, “Do they want me wasting time on keeping them informed or do they want me to fix the problem?” The truth is, though, you must do both. You must fix the problem AND do as much as possible to preserve your relationship. It is a simple fact that the customer won’t care if you solve the problem or not, if they are no longer your customer.
As I sat waiting to hear about my web hosting issue, I began to develop the idea for this column. What was my biggest problem, as a customer? What would have been their best response to me as a company? For myself, the best action the company could have taken was to open the lines of communication.
No one says that the network admin themselves has to communicate with the customer, only that they communicate with someone who can share the information with the customer. If it were my job, I would have taken one operator from the telephone support group and given them direct access to the admin. I would have instructed them to get regular updates from the admin and report that information to all customers whose sites were on the effected servers. They would have provided, at the minimum, hourly reports as to the cause of the problem and the steps being taken to restore those services. I know for me as a customer, this would have gone a long way towards limiting my concern and my dissatisfaction. I wouldn’t have been happy the site was down, but the regular communications would have allowed me to monitor the situation and gain some idea as to the severity of the problem. It is the “not knowing” that causes stress and anger.
The only communication I ever received from the company regarding this issue was this:
” I apologize for any inconvenience this issue may cause on you. The administrators are updating the machines and servers that is why your website are not working. But everything is back to normal now and your website is now working fine.”
In this case, solving the problem was not nearly enough, nor will it ever be if you don’t communicate quickly, clearly and regularly with your manager or customers. You may have solved the problem, but, through your silence, you will have left a wake of damaged expectations and relationships that may never recover.