Updated: Sep 3
A few months ago when I was flying home after a week out on the road, the weather conditions had us circling over the Atlanta Airport for an hour. Tensions were rising all around as if the plane would soon run out of fuel and tailspin off the sky and the tipsy gentleman next to me got really loud and aggressive and started yelling in French. Then, the captain came on the intercom and announced the Estimated Time of Arrival - another 45-60 minutes. While this sounds like a lot of time at that moment, everyone sat back, took a deep breath, and I resigned myself to reading over the next hour. Now everyone knew. Well, except for that guy next to me who at this point started wishing some best wishes to the flight crew and their relatives. In French.
It is easier for us as humans to accept a longer period then simply not knowing.
You will hear me talk and write a lot about the basics of communication. I truly and deeply believe everything starts and ends there. These fundamentals of communication are based on 4 simple elements: the Sender (encoder), the Channel of Communication, the Receiver (decoder), and probably the most important of them all…the Feedback.
After all, you can encode as many messages as you want, send them through 5 different means of communication, but if you don’t get any feedback, it is meaningless.
Even if the decoder received the message!
When I was a kid, my older brother used to beat the crap out of me. For years I tried communicating my suffering to my parents. Tried crying, telling them straight up, tried letters. They probably heard me. But I didn’t know.
Years later, I found out they actually did do something about it, BUT they didn't give me any feedback, so how was I to know they were trying to resolve the matter?
I’m going to share one of the biggest secrets in Sales and Customer Relationship - When you’re selling, make sure you always give feedback; and always remember that one of the most crucial elements of feedback when you’re selling, especially in relationship selling, is ETA.
A client of mine asked me to help them enhance their relationship with one specific customer. As part of my analysis I joined one of their calls. During the end of the conversation, the customer had a specific request (in this communication circle the customer is the sender/encoder and the channel of communication is the online technology). My client via video nods politely signaling they are listening (the receiver/decoder) and responds to their customer that they will do some research and get back to them with your findings.
Remember, I am just a fly on the wall. But these are one of those times where you are happy to be a consultant as you allow yourself to vocalize things you would not if you were an employee of that company.
So I count in my head, 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi and then nonchalantly ask….When?
My client, a bit confused, then asks:”what do you mean when?”
Me: WHEN WILL YOU GET BACK TO THEM.
My client: mmmmm….once I find out the details.
Me: AND WHEN WILL THAT BE
My client: Not sure. A few days maybe.
Imagine me now pounding on the keyboard, screaming and with tears, as I cannot stress this enough!) – WHEN?!?!?!
When will you get back to the customer (the F E E D B A C K) ???
You see, when you set a time frame as to when you will get back to them, you also set expectations to live up to. As a result, it puts a higher level of commitment on you.
Communication is like a magic circle that if broken at any point, is useless. The feedback is that last piece of that circle that makes the magic appear.
Now, set aside the actual issue of which you need to update the customer about, but the mere act of telling the customer you will get back to them in 3 days, then actually getting back to them in 3 days, is a bucket of extra points for you and is fundamental in building a trust-based relationship.
I know what you’re thinking – “But what if I didn't get the answers in 3 days?
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’LL TELL THE CUSTOMER!! And next time, give yourself a week.
And the same method should be applied internally as well. Let’s suppose you finished the call with the customer, you (encoder) go to your technical liaison internally and explain to them, via email (channel of communication), the issue at hand. Your technical person (decoder) replies with: “I understand the problem and…I’m on it.”
Famous last words.
WHEN GOD DAMN IT?? WHEN!?!?!? I am glad you are on it, but when will you get back to me? Demand the ETA. Demand they assign a level of commitment to the task by committing an ETA.
Too many times these things simply duel for way too long, due to a low level of commitment. As a rule, I typically insist on a timeline and set a reminder for myself unless I've worked with this person and learned to trust they will indeed follow up and reliably deliver.
You see, if you don’t set reminders in place to follow up, and your tech guys take their sweet time, or God forbid get immersed in another project and forget, then you may forget too. Then one day, 3 months later, your customer, who is now your ex-customer, bumps into you at a conference where you get all wound up about how they left you and how you simply didn't get an answer from your tech guy yet, and how you tried really hard and how it was a holiday and the tech guy’s dog died and your daughter’s first little league game and you had to sub for their coach and your wife got on the president’s club at her work and you just had to travel for a week to Hawaii with her and oh the global warming….
And really, even if you had said it would take 6 months, all that customer needed was an E T freaking A.
Thank goodness I know some French so I explained to Mr. OOOLALA next to me that we have a bit of an issue but the captain just gave us an ETA. About 2 hours.
Oh, Merci, he replied - “in zat case I weel avv anozer Vodka. Aow long you sink it weel take?”
Flight attendant - can you give the man an ETA please?