Why it takes so long for people to get back to you

This is a very frequent complaint so I thought I’d explain a few things -this of course precludes situations in which someone (heaven forbid) is ignoring you. [As an aside, if you are trying to start a relationship and are having difficulty getting someone’s attention, see 5 questions every designer must answer (revisited), and why people don’t return your calls.]

If the schedule is moving too slowly for you, it could indicate miscommunication. It is possible the ball is in your court and the other party is waiting on you but you don’t realize it. Or, your partner didn’t hear back from you within an optimal (for them) time frame so your job was culled but I’ll get more into that further down. For now, here is a list of action items requiring your attention before work on your project will be resumed (or started). If the service provider has asked for any of the following items:

  • Money
  • Fabric
  • Patterns
  • Samples
  • More (key) information (size specs, sketches  etc)
  • Work Order or work modification instructions
  • Approvals of any kind

your job is likely not being processed. It’s being warehoused. So, don’t assume your job is underway, it may have been shelved waiting on one or more of the above.  Your job may also be stalled and pending your action if the service provider has done any of these things:

  • Sent you a fit sample
  • Sent you a pattern for inspection or feedback
  • Etc

Your job won’t be restarted until you provide feedback and direction. Until then, don’t be surprised if nobody is working on any of your projects and for a few reasons -most often boiling down to priority and payment.

Priority: Even if your projects (various styles) are not interdependent, it is possible nobody is working on your job for a few reasons.  For one thing, the contractor may get the idea this isn’t as big a priority for you as it is for them.  For example, let’s say you get back with your provider a week after you get the sample they sent. Very few providers can stay in business waiting for you to take a week to inspect a sample so rightly or wrongly, the provider is going to get the idea that you’re not in much of a hurry and they can fit you in as is convenient to them. In the meantime, they’ve picked up other projects or restarted other jobs that had been stalled.

The obvious solution is to get back in the queue. Address the issues and then ask if there are any other pending items that could delay your project. The provider should be able to give you an estimate of when they can work you back in. You may not realize this but with the delay, you’re at the back of the line again. You move forward in the schedule as other work goes out or of course, other projects are stalled.

Payment: If this is the first project they’ve had with you and regardless of the number of styles you gave them, the provider will likely only work on one style -essentially a test project. It is pending the outcome of that project before they will stick you in the schedule to complete the rest of it. However, this isn’t the same as a project stall. If you get back with them quickly, you don’t lose your place in line and should get preferential priority.

The biggest things contractors are concerned about with respect to the test project are payment, timeliness and feedback quality. If you’re upset about something, be professional and productive. Throwing a hissy fit is a bad strategy at this point since we get too much drama as it is. Paying promptly is important; we ascertain in advance that one has the budget to proceed but as experience has shown, it doesn’t mean one pays when asked to. In fact, being slow pay counts against you. Once your past due is paid up, one isn’t excited by the prospect of scheduling a job that is likely to induce the experience all over again.

But I digress. I wished to go into timeliness because I really don’t think people understand what this means. By way of example, DEs frequently complain that providers favor larger customers. I would say this is true -but mostly not for the reasons you may think. Unfortunately, DEs think it is all about money, a bigger job, bigger profit or whatever. Going with a larger customer is a cognitive shortcut if only because larger companies are usually indicative of a better educated customer (they’ve been around long enough to have learned and grown).

You want to know what the real problem is? It’s the turn around between needing to know an answer versus getting it. A larger customer responds quickly because this is their day job. That’s what you’re up against in having to do this on the side. If I have a question, I can call my day-job customer and get an answer in five minutes. Or maybe 30. Or maybe the next morning at start of business. I don’t have to reschedule my entire work load to wait a week or two or even a month or more to get an answer. With day-job customers, there is the presumption that there will be fewer work stoppages waiting on the customer.

Stopping and restarting jobs is very inefficient. Becoming accustomed to these lags was the biggest adjustment I had to make in working with smaller firms; it’s taken me years to figure out that this is the new normal. Anyway, this is a big reason why providers like “larger” customers. It’s the money alright but only indirectly in that they have the volume to not need another job. I truly understand the difficulties you have when starting up but you should get back to your provider ASAP. By ASAP, I mean five minutes. Really. Because that’s what other customers are doing. We’re used to being able to get someone on the phone when we need them.

I think most customers think their job will be resumed if not immediately, very soon (assuming they even realize work on their project has ceased, some don’t!) after they resolve whatever roadblock there was. To that I say maybe, maybe not. It depends on what else they’ve got going on. You may have to wait until there is a slot open in their schedule and depending on how many work stoppages you’ve had, or payment issues, it could be longer than you like. More than anything though, you don’t want a contractor to become habituated to long response time turn arounds because they’ll get the idea your project isn’t time dependent.

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9 comments

  1. Kathleen says:

    I was awaiting comments too so I’m hopeful that people are too busy to respond because they’re getting back with their providers.

  2. Sarah_H. says:

    This posting has led to much reflection on my part, but I have not had a relevant comment. I spent my career in the garment industry in the pattern room. I interfaced with the production manager, not with the contractors. In my limited forays, since retirement, into independent production, I have run into the very slowness others complain of. I have decided that in order to be taken seriously by a contractor I would need to be in almost daily contact with them and at least weekly face to face contact. This is what they get from a large company and this is what they expect. They weren’t waiting for answers, or money, or necessary materials, but without my communication on a regular basis my work was put aside for other work that received more close attention. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as it were. I do not know if this is how it is everywhere, just that this has been my experience with two contractors on three occasions. I am speaking of sewing contractors here, rather than other services, but I am sure there are similarities. It is still the garment business.

  3. Jessica M. says:

    I’ve been waiting for more comments as well, being too busy myself to respond!

    Replies in 30 minutes? I’d be happy if clients got back to me in a day or two. All too often it’s days stretching into weeks…months, even. And prompt payment is definitely another thing that seems to be lacking more often than not. I’ve found it very difficult to plan and schedule work for DE’s, as very few actually follow through in a timely manner. I’ll go through periods where it looks like I’ll be slammed all at once and need to bring on sewing help, but then projects don’t materialize or get delayed. This makes it tough to expand my business to more than just me, not to mention I’m wary of committing to a lease on a more adequate work space. The larger established clients are definitely more attractive, and I keep questioning the viability of working with indie designer startups, however well meaning they are.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Jessica: for quite some time now, I’m not putting someone on the schedule until their stuff comes in. I’ve got one customer here who sent me half of it back in June. She emailed on Monday saying she’d send the rest this week but it hasn’t arrived. I also asked her for a check. So, if it comes in, that’s what will be pending -payment. I had already done some work for her so I hope I don’t lose money on that. Live and learn.

    This time of year is usually the worst. From now until the end of February, it’s just crazy. Even with Martha helping out, I may have to hire my contractor to make mock ups -assuming he has the time to do it…

  5. Xochil says:

    I think as service providers, we are deadline oriented. When the client doesn’t have a deadline, or doesn’t seem to (maybe they have one in mind but haven’t been sharing that with us), I think we tend to focus on clients who DO have a deadline, and are responsive when we need them. I think clients get frustrated when we don’t seem to be on their same wavelength, understanding their needs such as timeline, staying within a budget, etc. but they aren’t forthcoming with the information. We can’t stick to a deadline or be conscious of budget when we aren’t told, or when we don’t have adequate information, resources, etc. from their end.

    It’s a team effort. I think service providers WANT their clients to succeed, regardless of their level, but those things stand in our way too. This post goes to show that it’s not something we want to do — ignore clients or prolong these projects — but it tends to happen more when our clients aren’t prepared, whether it’s being uniformed, under financed, or simply don’t have the time to commit to their projects that they would like. Unfortunately we end up with a project or two that seem to sit around forever. But after questions go unanswered or invoices unpaid in the interim, we only can follow up so much, or we will not have the time to devote to the clients who are on top of things (regardless of their size).

  6. Judy Gross says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post for the last couple of days. Being new to the ‘provider’ side of the sewing industry, I have found that being flexible is one of the most important aspects of my business. I’m new, I’m small (just 2.5 employees and that includes me). My schedule has to be fluid – I am expecting an order to come through from a customer, but then they decide they want another prototype because they changed their mind about something, – a spot gets opened in production, but gets eaten up by prototyping. One thing Kathleen did not mention, and perhaps this doesn’t happen to more established shops, but I am waiting on supplies so that I can finish orders – some stuff is out of stock at the vendors, a folder I ordered has gotten lost in the mail!, these sorts of things have delayed production of a couple of items.

    The rest of what Kathleen said is spot on – I’m dealing with some people that don’t know what they are doing, others who don’t get back to me to clarify items, I can’t wait for people to sit around trying to figure out what they want to do. I have other customers that know exactly how to ‘work the system’ and while they do keep me busy, it really is all about flexibility and the best use of the hours during the day.

  7. Martha Peterson says:

    A very thought provoking post, especially to someone who sometimes has difficulties responding to people because of feeling intimidated by the situation, even though there may be nothing to feel intimidated about.

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