Hiding Behind Voicemail. An Alarming Trend in Business?

It could be that I’ve been ridiculously slow to make this connection, but I’ve now pulled together enough evidence from a broad enough range of sources where it has finally dawned on even me: the tools designed to facilitate interaction, improve service, and further connect companies and employees to all stakeholders are having quite the opposite effect. Though we’ve all rolled our eyes when yet another of our calls roll to voicemail or have experienced the frustration of an unanswered email, the problem is worsening and my analysis shows it’s costing companies real revenues in a market that’s not particularly inviting.

Most recently one of the absolutely finest professional service providers I know, someone who has a distinguished track record producing instant results for his clients, is a man of uncommon character, and has real solutions for companies that are struggling, reported that the vast majority of his outbound phone calls are disappearing into the black hole of voicemail. He typically deals only with senior executives and his experience is telling him that a growing number of people he’s trying to reach are, in his words, “hiding behind voicemail.” One of his indicators is the timing and volume of calls he gets back, especially when compared to history (this is someone who keeps detailed statistics on everything). It’s closely related to my experiences in other areas.

I’ve spent my entire career in business/professional services, and I get up close and personal looks at many different companies in this broadly defined industry. And while every company’s mission statement and annual report gives passionate lip-service to a commitment to service, what’s happening on the front lines is anything but. Undoubtedly the nervous-wreck of an economy has everyone more on edge and customers are putting more bite into their calls to (vendor) customer service lines, but on a regular basis I am finding “hiding behind voicemail” is routine. Most damaging is that when I dig deeper into situations where a client service/sales/customer service employee dodged a call, I’m finding they are taking cues from more senior management; an alarming trend. At a time when companies can strengthen their relationships by standing up in the face of adversity they are allowing themselves to be more vulnerable to competition because throughout the ranks employees are shrinking away or hiding.

Here’s a contrast:

As a way to fix a business that was fast losing credibility in its market I had to terminate several unsavory sales people, each having questionable business practices and ethics. One of the sales people I terminated responded to losing his high-income position by posting untrue and really demented stuff about the company and me personally on the Internet. Of course this individual used a pseudonym to excoriate me in what amounts to one of the most incredible role reversals of all-time (it’s kind of like Bonnie & Clyde accusing the Texas and Louisiana officers of murder). My way of dealing with it was to reply to this post by using my name, putting my entire contact information out in the public domain and asking anyone who wished to speak with me to please call; I never got one inquiry and the brief moment of stupidity quickly faded away. Now compare that to this scenario.

Senior management at a company I’ve done business with had to communicate a very sensitive message to their end-user customers; something so critical that executives personally spent a great deal of time on this matter. I know these executives extremely well and they have always passionately stated their strong belief that, though theirs might be a national company, it’s as personal and community-based a field as there is. This company happens to be a technology leader, has all the customer data imaginable, and despite all the tools at their disposal, despite their planning for the critical communication, and despite their stated deep commitment to something deeper than “mass customization”, they sent out a letter that was unsigned and opened with a “Dear Sir/Madam” salutation! Needless to say, they have lost control for the situation…but I guess their silver lining is none of the executives involved will have to hide behind voicemail because, other than a general customer service number, recipients wouldn’t even know who to call. Now if you were the customer service rep getting a call from a frustrated/confused/angry customer who got a letter like this, knowing how your executives hid from their responsibilities, how would you handle the flood of calls?

Leave a Reply