Why Customers Give the Silent Treatment

Have you ever been so pleased with a support experience that you went out to tell the manager about what set it apart? Me neither.

Maybe you’ve been so upset at a rude cashier or an indifferent support agent that you took the time to reach someone higher up regarding this issue? I’ve done this before, but I can probably count the number of times on one hand.

We can justify being silent by saying that it takes too much time (or it’s inconvenient) to speak up, but the reality is a lot simpler than that: It’s not our job to point out the company’s mistakes.

Customers see service as something that should be self-explanatory, likened to a set of unwritten rules and etiquette of high society. In other words, customer service is something we hope to get without asking — partly why we tend to look to family and friends for recommendations.

It’s not a stretch to see customer silence as a by-product of our culture. It’s often a result of misunderstanding, resentment and other friction brought about by the human equation. How we address these inner thoughts determines whether your business gets a second glance from your prospects.

Silence during onboarding

Heading toward the unknown causes apprehension and uncertainty. It is naive to leave your clients to their devices, because that’s when second-guessing, doubt and assumptions start to wander into their minds. If left unchecked these feelings may transform themselves into regret: “how is this better than the product I was using before?”

Silence during the onboarding process can be deadly for other reasons, too. It’s that moment when they’re not very keen on how your product works and even less likely to use it for its intended purposes. As a result, there’s absolutely no harm in sending them an email reminding what it is that they’re missing. There’s equally little harm in sending follow-ups even when you think you shouldn’t: you’re trying to increase product value in their eyes which currently stands at zero anyway.

For example, we can see when a user has signed up for a free trial but hasn’t done much. This user may be confused about a certain feature of our help desk software. As a result, we put a lot of ideas about using our product into one email which is designed to be one of our main catalysts for user onboarding.

One of the questions, “What made you sign up?” is a great conversation starter and we found it helped break the ice with our customers in an easy way. Our dialogue doesn’t stop there, however. A few days later we follow up with another email with additional use cases for our software the customer probably hasn’t thought of.

Of course, “being on the same page” is a prerequisite of any meaningful relationship. But onboarding is a time to take direct initiative, not being shy or suggestive. It’s a time to give your users the tools to start using your product as soon as they sign up — it’s a tall order for any company.

The antisocial customer and you

In the customer’s marketplace, you can be certain that each person is highly informed before they make a purchase decision — even more so after the fact. Whether they know it or not, customers inevitably impose their needs and wants on your company in ways that are most convenient or beneficial to them. It can be through silence, body language or the infamous “I’m just looking around” response.

Sometimes it’s best to leave customers to their own devices without bothering them with greetings, small talk or special-pushing. In the online world, it’s the equivalent of customers interacting with your site or signing up to the trial version without actually buying the product. Adam Toporek, CEO of CTS Customer Service Solutions demonstrates how companies can use customer browsing to their advantage:

The key to handling the browsing response it to find the sweet spot between ignoring the customer and pressuring the customer. You want to make sure you are available to the customer and that the customer knows this, but you also do not ever want to give customers the sense that you are hovering over them or pressuring them.

In retail, we’re seeing that service representatives aren’t being called up to provide insightful answers or expertise anymore, but only to transact the sale. When customers do want help, they’re expecting someone to materialize immediately, answer questions in 1 to 2 well formulated sentences, and disperse. If they want something found, such as a part or clothing size — their waiting tolerance may just be a few minutes. Customers are indeed seeking attentive and knowledgeable service only when shopping for higher end or specialty products.

For many business owners, this entails finding the right blend of one-on-one support and self-service for when the customer is looking for answers on their own terms.

Silence on your website

Recently, The Daily Dot and The Verge, both very popular online publications decided to axea thriving discussion channel on their sites: blog comments. Nicholas White, the editor of The Daily Dot explained to BBC why he went with the unpopular move:

To have comments, you have to be very active, and if you’re not incredibly active, what ends up happening is a mob can shout down all the other people on your site. In an environment that isn’t heavily curated it becomes about silencing voices and not about opening up voices.

For White, it was also a question of resource allocation. There was simply not enough staff to moderate forum comments effectively, so they made a choice to shift attention to Twitter and Facebook — effectively “changing the channel” on the user already engaged with the site. Not a particularly smart smart move if you care about your customers…. Or is it?

How do you interpret silence in blogs? When no one replies to you in a conversation or to a post, it could mean that everyone is agreeing with you. It can also mean that they don’t care enough about it to bother answering. Maybe some think it was utter nonsense and don’t want to waste precious energy crafting a response. It can be all or none of the above — and companies have no way of figuring out which is which.

The takeaway?

When you close down a communication channel, you will never really know what your customers really think.

Our view is any and all discussions are very important and the more opportunity you give people to speak out, the better. This is why we are’t shutting down our blog comments section despite it being relatively empty.

Should you enjoy the silence?

Short answer: Absolutely not.

Online communication is far from the optimal way to talk to your customers. It lacks face-to-face cues that help in getting our thoughts across; there’s no way to convey or interpret the tone of voice or eye contact. Unfortunately, there’s no magic fix for that. That’s why it’s so important to work out any “silent killers” in your communication process.

Look at it this way: will customers warn you before leaving? Most likely not. They may (or may not) complain that something is bothering them, and if no action is taken, they will quietly leave and move on to your competitor. That’s why customer silence must be addressed before it starts eating away at your business — the sooner, the better.

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