Don't Make Your Customers Wait

In this age of instant gratification, it’s no surprise you’ll lose customers if you make them wait.

A young entrepreneur lost my business because it took him much too long to give me a complete proposal.  I was prepared to spend a few thousand dollars, but not with someone who wasn’t responsive.  If he wasn’t responsive when trying to make a sale, I knew he wouldn’t be responsive when completing the work for me.  After waiting almost a month for a thorough proposal, I finally spent that money with someone who was quick to respond. 

This experience reminds me how important it is to get back to customers as quickly as possible if you want their attention, their business and their referrals. 

Here’s what happened.  Our lawn and landscaping were in dire need of some R&R – resuscitation and revitalization.  I enjoy seeing green grass, colorful flowers and healthy plants around the house, but I don’t enjoy spending a lot of time working to achieve the effect that makes me happy.  After months of minimal attention and benign neglect, we decided to get some help with the garden and lawn. 

A contractor who had done other work for us recommended Juan, a young man who was just starting his own landscape business.  I trusted our contractor’s opinion, and set up a consultation with Juan.  He spent almost two hours at our house walking around the yard and discussing all the things I wanted done.  After awhile, I noticed he wasn’t taking notes, and asked him if he thought that might help him remember everything.  He smiled brightly and told me he was young and had a great memory.  Good for him, thought the old broad who no longer has the great memory.  Wish I could remember what that was like. 

He promised to get a bid to me in a few days, and sent me an e-mail two days later.  I was pleased with the quick response, but it was disappointed to find an incomplete bid.  He only addressed the lawn in the front yard.  He gave me nothing for the back yard or any of the planters we’d discussed. 

After an e-mail exchange asking him for more, he sent me a quote for the lawn in the back yard, but still nothing for the planters.  He seemed to have no vision for the overall project.  He gave me the impression that he only wanted to spiff up my lawn.  I wanted to see the whole package. 

I called him and told him I wanted him to address the overall plan and cost for everything before I made a decision.  He sounded put out that I wanted so much detail, or in his words, “every little detail.”  That sounded defensive to me.  Both my confidence in him and my patience were running low. 

He agreed that he would send me a comprehensive plan, but said he’d need to come back and look at everything again.  Writing down some of the things the first time might not have been such a bad idea.  I was not thrilled about spending another two hours going over what we’d gone over before.  I said to let me know when he wanted to come over.  It took him two weeks to call me to set that appointment – a month after our initial meeting.  I’m not that patient, and I had many other choices of contractors!

In the two weeks it took him to call for the second appointment, I interviewed the owners of two other landscape companies and hired one of them.  The landscaper I hired was creative and had wonderful ideas for resuscitating the garden and the lawn.  He took notes as we walked around the property, and he drew sketches during our meeting.  He priced out the work then and there, and left me with a hand-written proposal and a sketch – and the confidence that he would do a great job. 

From a consumer’s perspective, here are the difficulties I experienced that are common when stringing out a warm prospect. 

  • I felt my project wasn’t important to him. 
  • I didn’t believe that I had his attention or that he was eager to have my business. 
  • I wondered if he was in over his head, if he really knew what he was doing and could handle a project this size. 
  • I was concerned that if he couldn’t even get a complete proposal to me, the installation would drag out. 

Juan may have had a million reasons why he couldn’t get a thorough proposal to me within a few days.  But his excuses didn’t matter to me.  Based on his lack of responsiveness on the proposal, I had lost confidence in his ability to handle the project.  He may be the best landscaper in the county, but I’ll never know because I’m not going to contract with him. 

Instead, I wrote a check to Kent, the business owner who showed me that he wanted my business by responding quickly, proving that had a great reputation over many years in business, and making me believe that he could turn a vision into reality.  He’s a great example of what I teach my clients in my customer service workshops. 

Getting referrals and getting your foot in the door with a prospective client is not enough if you don’t show a sense of urgency and attention.  Your prospective customer wants to believe their business is important to you.  If your prospect doesn’t believe that you want their business and that you’ll get the job done, you won’t ever make it through their door.  It’s tough to build a business anyway, but it’s impossible to build a business if you can’t get the customers to sign on the dotted line.