What Do You Do When Your Customer Goes Dark?
Your customer may be out of reach, but you're not out of options.
Customers are hard to predict. Things go great at first. You’re besties that are in constant communication, exchanging updates via email and conducting regular video calls. Some of you might even call your customers more than you call your parents...
But then they “disappear.” Go quiet. Incommunicado. Dark. (We’re talking about your customers now, not your parents. Just to be clear.)
What just happened?
Your timeline is at risk of stalling because you can’t get your questions answered, and they’re not updating you on what’s happening on their side.
So what can you do, short of hopping onto a plane and marching into their office? Or worse, their home office?
Try different contact methods
Is your point of contact (POC) not responding to emails anymore? It doesn’t automatically mean something sinister.
Sometimes emails just stop working. I’ve run into situations where my customer’s mail server just decided to flag my emails as spam and block me. Other times, the customer is so swamped by other messages that your email is simply buried under the avalanche.
The alternative is right there in front of you. Most people have their direct line in their emails, and so you can pick up the phone and call. If they don’t pick up, leave a voicemail (or two, or three). If voicemail still doesn’t get you results, then send them a DM on LinkedIn.
Exhaust as many means of communication as possible, because you don’t know which method will work until you try. And if your reason for calling is urgent enough, they will appreciate - or at least understand - your persistence.
Approach someone else in the organization
If the person you’re trying to talk to isn’t answering, then try someone else in the same organization. They may know something about what’s happening on the other side and give you an update.
If you’re worried about propriety, you don’t have to go around your primary contact. Simply cc the secondary contact the next time you send a follow-up email. If the secondary contact sees the message, they may be spurred to respond on the first person’s behalf. If they don’t, then you can step it up a notch and reach out to the secondary contact directly.
Here’s a sample script you can use:
“Hi [name], good morning! I’ve been trying to contact [POC] about the onboarding, but I haven’t heard back. Would you know if they’re in the office?”
They may tell you that the customer is on vacation or on medical leave. Or they may tell you that the person left the organization and is no longer available (it happens). In either case, you should ask who your new contact is and enlist their help to keep the ball rolling.
If your POC is in the office, follow up by asking, “Can you please let them know that I need to talk to them about [insert important topic]?”
(Don’t forget to thank your secondary contact for carrying the message.)
Give them a reason to respond
If your POC is seeing your emails but actively ignoring them, you can try to tease them out of their cave by giving them a reason to respond.
You can either use a carrot or a stick, depending on the situation.
A good example of a carrot would be a preview of an upcoming feature. Most customers love feeling special, and getting a sneak peek into your roadmap is enough to make most people sit up and raise their hand. This tactic normally works for customers who’ve already been using your product for some time.
A stick involves some sort of consequence (whether absolute or possible) for their silence. You’re not making threats; you’re letting them know what impact their inaction will have. You should carefully communicate the negative impact while still phrasing things in a positive way.
The script would go something like this:
“Hi [POC], I’ve been trying to reach out to you to get some questions answered, but haven’t heard back. I’m hoping to get a response from you soon so that we can keep our onboarding timeline on track and you start getting ROI from [your product] as soon as possible.”
It may be tempting to go all Samuel L Jackson on them, but while that’s satisfying from an emotional perspective, it may hurt your standing with the customer.
Enlist your team’s help
You understand the need to keep following up. Your boss understands the need to keep following up.
But the customer? The customer might not take your persistence well. It may, oddly enough, discourage them from responding even more.
So to prevent you from burning what little relationship capital you have left, I suggest you ask your teammates for help.
There are quite a few people in your organization who can assist:
- Sales can reach out to the customer under the pretense of a post-sales check-in
- Your CS manager or VP can speak to someone higher up in the customer’s organization
- Even one of your fellow CSMs can reach out to your POC under the guise of covering for you “while you’re away”
A change in the pattern may shake something loose and encourage your customer to respond.
So don’t feel trapped or frustrated when your customer stops responding to you. There are many different ways to get ahold of your customer and find out the reason for their silence. Most of the time, the reasons will be benign anyway.
And if they’re not? Well, at least now you know. And knowing is half the battle.
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