The Importance of Follow-Up

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 naïve. 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.

This entry is mirrored on my blog if you want to visit.

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  1. Gigi says:

    Amen! This drives me bonkers as well. I have been holding a customer’s order for THREE WEEKS because I cannot get him to approve requested changes to the embroidery design. For someone who was in a hurry for this order he can’t manage to find the time to fire off a quick email to me. If he doesn’t get back to me soon I will have no choice but to return all of the garments and eat the restocking charges because I am starting to feel like a stalker! Good customer or not, I just don’t have time for this.

  2. Mary Roberts says:

    Oh yes, this is a big concern of mine as well. I am constantly finding evidence of “dangling communications”, from face to face verbals, phone messages left but not answered, email sent/not sent. Too many things left undone and too many assumptions being made on every front. Poor practice!!! I feel like a sleuth.

  3. Andy Chang says:

    I think most people like to start things but can never finish… That’s why it’s so difficult for people to follow up.

    My experience is from the other end. Usually my customer ask me that they must have meeting samples/pp samples or what ever samples yesterday, and really need my help to push it out as soon as possible.

    However, when it comes to size spec and contrast color or accessories to be used, it will take them 1 week for an answer. When you follow up too closely, they get upset because they feel like you are pushing them too hard. When you give them a few days, they get upset because they didn’t know you need it urgently to produce the samples they need.

    And after they finally provided you the information needed to produce the sample, they start pushing you for a next day delivery.

    It takes these designers or merchandisers 1 week to decide on a simple size spec or contrast color or accesories to be used on the garment, but I guess they think we can just come up with samples in a few hours….. Talk about un-realistic expectations……

    It’s always important to follow up, because you push the ball back into the person’s court. And when someone is following up, please give the basic courtesy of responding. If you don’t have an answer, let the person know that you don’t know and is working on an answer and will let them know that you will respond in X number of days. And most importantly, one you promised, you have to deliver.

  4. Kay Ellen says:

    Amen, amen, amen!!!!! Thanks so much for column. This is SOOOO right on target, and so sadly missing in most realms today, both professional and personal.

  5. Mike C says:

    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.


    I’d have to disagree. I wouldn’t have any hourly employees if I required followup as part of my screening process.

    My experience has been that, while the ability to followup is important, it isn’t as important as experience, aptitude, attitude, education or intelligence.

    If someone has shown up on time and been properly prepared for their interview, has given me their full attention and answered my questions thoughtfully, I believe that they’ve treated the interview with all appropriate gravity.

    Over the years, the single most important criteria I’ve seen across a variety of positions in a number of industries has been intelligence. Second most important has been work ethic. Everything else has been a distant third.

  6. Amanda Rodriguez says:

    I have to agree with Mike on that part of the issue.. We just interviewed a bunch of people for a single position..and the most annoying thing right now are people calling with “have you decided yet?” questions..

  7. J C Sprowls says:

    I’m siding with Mike and Amanda on this… for the most part :-)

    It depends on the level and calibre of the employee you’re shopping for.

    If you’re seeking an hourly employee, who is typically skilled and/or trainable labor, expecting silver-star service (i.e. a follow-up note) is stretching the expectation a bit. I say this because the role these folks are applying for is one of following direction, learning a skill/trade, or in need of being shaped/developed as an employee.

    However, if you’re looking for someone who is well-developed, responsible for directing/developing staff, or making decisions without direct supervision, then, expecting a minimum of silver-star service (or, better) is entirely appropriate. Following-up is a social grace (i.e. soft skill) that you should hope doesn’t need to be instilled in the leadership staff.

  8. J C Sprowls says:

    To Andy’s and Gigi’s points…

    Always sunset and prioritize your communications. By this, I mean put a “Please respond by , …” in all emails and phone messages. This helps you to manage your client’s (and, your) expectations.

    If I were to say to a client: “I need a decision by 5:00 on Thursday, 08/17, or delivery will be delayed by X business days”, I’ve wrapped priorities around the issue. The risk has been brought into the light; and, the client can prioritize this issue at his/her discretion.

    As part of this, though… you need to give the decision-maker some time to arrive at a decision. I rarely expect a response in less than 48 hours; but, I never let go of the issue for more than 72 hours, either.

    To peform your due diligence (read, CYA): I recommend leaving both a message and sending an email (or, fax) because it’s difficult to anticipate which will be received first. Once the issue is escalated to the decision-maker, you’re freed to focus on other tasks for the next 72 hours.

    As a sideline: Sunsetting and prioritizing statements is a very effective way to manage yourself (and, your time). If the issue cannot be prioritized, don’t take ownership for it.

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