As a business coach, I’m frequently asked what the most important aspect of business is. Sure marketing is important, sales is important, knowing your figures is important. Being disciplined is important, as is having business knowledge and acumen … but when I really identify the one thing which is most important in business, I’ve got to say is FOLLOWING UP.
So here are some critical areas in business we should all be following up in.
Marketing often requires follow up. For example, even your website. Do you check in on it regularly to ensure the ‘Contact Us’ page is working? Just because it worked last month and last week doesn’t mean it will be working today. If it’s been a bit quiet, then hop onto your site and send yourself an enquiry test. If you are working with a consultant, agency or marketing advisor, then ensure they are doing their job. Not everyone is ‘all over it’ and focussed on you. Whether the consultancy or agent is large or small, the level and degree of service can considerably vary from place to place. One client of mine was using a very large firm who made lots of promises, but their follow-through was shocking. Towards the end, we had to almost micro-manage them to get any work done.
This is the most incredibly important area of follow up. Over the course of decades of helping Australian businesses, training and coaching – I’ve heard time and time again “I don’t want to hassle them”. The reality is that if someone reaches out to you to enquire about your service (or products) or gets a quote, they expect (and actually want) follow up. Now there are exclusions to that rule; particularly the ‘bargain hunters’ who will get 20 quotes to save a half dollar. But on the most part, the genuine enquiry is expecting follow-up.
Firstly, they see it as YOUR job, not theirs, to follow through.
Secondly, people get super busy and if you don’t follow up, your competitor will, and if all things were similar (ie price, service, product, value) then they will just go with the person who did the follow up. They might not have been that customer’s absolute first choice, but they did their job, followed up and obviously want the business.
Some rules of thumb. If your product value/pricing is larger, you should take the time to deliver your quote – in person. Not just get lazy and email it. If you’re going to do something, then do it right. Secondly, if you do email (which is perfectly fine for a small-priced item) then follow up immediately after to ensure it was received. Email is notorious for going astray, especially with spam filters. Next, diarise when you will follow up and ensure you do so.
The follow up should occur whether it’s a promise you made or a promise someone else just made. A classic example… One of my sons just sold his car to a local wrecker. I checked the bank last night, and a month later the payment isn’t in. We’re not talking big dollars, but the price was agreed on. I just rang this morning and guess what – the paperwork is in the ‘paid’ pile, although clearly isn’t paid. She promised she will action today. Yes, I will check on it. If someone – supplier, customer, staff, associate makes a promise, unless you’re confident it will happen, then keep notes/reminders to follow up.
Now, the other side of the coin is, of course, your own promises. If you say you will do something, then write it down or diarise or task it and ensure it happens. It might be anything from a quote to furnishing some information – but if you promise, then you do. People often comment that I’m all over things … purely because I have systems and discipline around follow up.
Cash-flow is the lifeblood of a business. A business without money is all but dead. In this regard, it’s important that you invoice promptly, your payment terms are not too long and that you follow up on your debtors. Sadly still, only 25% of businesses pick up the phone and ask their customers to pay their bills. I’m not saying be a Bull Terrier with a bone but do be sure to nicely but firmly follow up on outstanding customer invoices. Make notes of promises (sound familiar) and then if they don’t meet their promise, another follow up call.
When you bring a new customer on board, this is the perfect time to get as many contact details as possible. Ensure you have a street address, plus more than one phone number so if one means of communication is closed, you can jump to another. If emailing outstanding invoices is not working, then stop that method and jump across to calling. If people don’t answer the phone, switch to texting. In my prior businesses, we actually noted how clients best responded and so for one client it might always be a text (because that worked) and another client it was emailing (because that method was effective) and yet others, it required a firm letter in the mail. This is an awful lot of work, but unless you get paid in advance, upfront, or stay on top of it, it can become a big task, unless you train your clients from day one on how you want to do business.
Sadly, customer service follow-up is lacking. First rule of thumb; if you have received a customer complaint, then your follow up should be super-fast. This is an opportunity to win a lifelong loyal customer if you handle the complaint well. I’m not talking about just throwing a credit their way – but being prompt in responding to their call. Listening and then investigating. You may not know what happened and need to find out. Tell your customer what you’ll do and roughly how quickly you’ll come back to them. Then make sure you do.
Even if it’s not a complaint, you should follow up with customers on a regular basis. Are they happy with your services? Did your staff look after them well? How are they going? What’s happening in their life/business world? How further can you help them? (That last one may be an opportunity to upsell, but don’t make it salesy). Are you meeting their needs? You don’t want this to sound like a survey or questionnaire, but rather a genuine and personal call. It should not be an email. Remember I said, if you’re going to do something, do it well. Email is impersonal and doesn’t give you the chance to delve. If you sense (in person or over the phone) there is a tinge of dissatisfaction, then you can enquire further and discover how your customer is really feeling. This then gives you the opportunity to improve, rectify or fix the situation – possibly winning over that person for life. They may even become your strongest advocate – all because you made the effort and showed that you care.
Did you know, 68% of people leave a business due to the perceived feeling of indifference? In other words, they left mostly because they didn’t feel loved.
So, if follow up isn’t your forté, then I strongly recommend you change that. Get a system, use technology if you can, or go simple – but take action to ensure you follow up in your business. You might be busy, you might have ‘bigger fish to fry’ but it’s the attention to these sorts of details that make a business strong, sustainable and successful.
Do you think you need business coaching to get on top of your game? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0411 622 666.