Failure to Respond

Ignoring a customer’s request makes matters worse.  This can be as damaging when dealing with internal customer as it is with external customers.  

Ruth works in the state office of a large organization.  There are several satellite offices throughout the state which support the state office and are, in turn, supported by the state office.  Ruth received a request from an external customer, and needed information from George who works in one of the satellite offices in order to respond to the customer. 

Ruth e-mailed George detailing the information she needed.  Then she waited.  For three days, George did not acknowledge receipt of the e-mail, and Ruth had no idea whether George had viewed the e-mail or when he would be able to get back to her with the information.  Ruth then left a voice message for George asking when she could expect the information. 

It took two more e-mails and one more voice message before Ruth received a response from George.  Meanwhile, Ruth’s frustration level was on the rise. 

One of Ruth’s values is delivering superior customer service to her internal as well as external customers, so she was frustrated with George’s failure to respond.  Ruth would have even settled for knowing when George could respond to her request.  She wanted to get back to the customer as quickly as she could, and at least tell the customer when to expect the information.  Her frustration increased to anger with George the longer it took for him to respond.  George’s delay in responding not only impacted the external customer, it damaged the working relationship with Ruth.  This could have lead to her retaliating by being less responsive the next time George needed something from her.

Ignoring a request only makes the situation worse.  The problem is amplified when communication breaks down as it did in this situation.  The truth is people are more able to deal with a delay if they know what that situation is and all the facts are disclosed.  If George had let Ruth know when he would get the information back to her, Ruth could have let the customer know when to expect an answer.  Not knowing caused more anxiety, wasted time when Ruth wrote multiple e-mails and left several voice messages, and hard feelings between colleagues who must continue to work together.

In this organization, and most others, employees have to do more work with fewer people and reduced resources.  This situation can often be overwhelming and lead to short tempers and increased workplace conflict.  But that does not to excuse George ignoring Ruth’s request. 

George’s response is not uncommon even among well-intentioned individuals who have too much on their plates, or when they want to avoid what they believe will be a confrontation if they tell their customer they can’t respond to the request immediately. 

It’s not worth it to go into hiding in order to avoid delivering bad news.  Face the facts.  Tell the truth.  Follow up when you say you’re going to.  But don’t leave your internal (or external) customers hanging.