The fact that I even feel this strongly compelled to write a post on the importance of follow-up makes me irritable. Once upon a time, I thought follow-up was a given; I’m no longer so naÃ¯ve. Excuse me if this starts to sound like a rant, but I find it so absurd that this key component is so lacking in people’s professional standards of behavior I almost hit the roof Friday.
These notes are compiled from my experiences and observations in both the design and production sides:
1. When going through the hiring process a few weeks ago, I automatically rejected anyone I interviewed who didn’t send me a follow-up email or phone call in 24 hours. I was astonished at the follow-up/not ratio, despite their enthusiasm for the position during the interview. (San Francisco must have more great actors than I thought.) People put themselves first. If they’re not going to find their own employment not worth a follow-up email, I don’t trust them to do anything else, quite frankly.
2. Always attach a “please confirm” note on your emails and make sure you get a confirmation. Half a dozen very important orders will be shipped late because the factories are saying they never got an email about such and such. Send emails with a “read receipt” if you have to. I’m sure my customer service person did not enjoy spending an hour getting extensions, and I’m also sure she is chewing out our overseas production manager as we speak to anyone who’ll listen. I’m also sure that the customers’ trust in us has gone down a notch. I say “a notch” in this case because these are customers who’ve bought from us for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS. You will probably not be so lucky.
3. UPS and FEDEX are not fool-proof. They have tracking numbers for a reason. If something is important enough for priority overnight shipping, make sure they got it the next morning. Track that thing down! Email the recipient with the tracking number, request that they contact you upon receipt of package. That way, if they don’t get it, 1. they can’t blame you and 2. problems are easier to solve from the beginning, not after they’ve snowballed into something much more complicated. (Speaking of snowballing, that brings me to “small problems”. Do not gloss them over. NIP IT IN THE BUD, RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Tell your supervisor if necessary, or a colleague that can help you. I can guarantee you that any backlash will be less severe at this point.)
4. If you tell someone that you will find out the answer to their question by the end of the day and the day has passed and still no luck, call them back and let them know you’re still researching and you will get back to them in 24 hours. Let them know that you haven’t forgotten about them. It takes approximately one minute out of your day, including dialing.
5. I had this vendor rep who would only contact me after I had sent them about 3 emails and 2 voicemails, on average, in the beginning. It steadily got worse. I let it go for a while, thinking everyone has their busy season. After about six months, and two almost-crises later, I realized that my headache was not going to go away, so I spoke to their boss. Now I deal with the company owner directly, that person no longer works there, all of my P.O.s are being delivered on time, and consequently I send more and more work to them whenever I can. And honestly, because the company owner and I have built up a good relationship, I call him less, because I know he will contact me when I ask him to (noted on a P.O., via email, etc.). It was the previous lack of response that had me anxiously calling all the time. This is the industry. If you can’t deal with this scenario, you don’t belong here.
6. It all boils down to excellent customer service. It doesn’t matter what you do, what industry you’re in, how high up the ladder you’re at. You should be treating all professional relationships as if you’re customer service. “CUSTOMERS” ARE NOT PEOPLE WHO BUY THINGS FROM YOU; THEY ARE ANYONE WHO DOES BUSINESS WITH YOU, PERIOD.
I don’t care if you have to turn your computer monitor into a surrealist daisy with post-it reminders stuck all along the edges, make sure you remember to follow-up. Writing in all caps irritates me, but the fact that I find them necessary right now irritates me more. Simple and consistent follow-up emails and phone calls are the easiest way to build up your professional reputation.