Take a Number

About a month ago, a client called up with a DVD project that they needed done in a red-hot hurry. We had a flurry of phone calls with them, then we prepared an estimate with the expectation that they would be sending us the materials so we could immediately get started.

About a week passed and we didn’t hear from them. We called to see if the DVD concept had been scaled back to printing 3″ x 5″ clip-art postcards on their inkjet printer once they saw what a project like this actually cost to produce. And we were just plain curious if the project was still alive in any form. They assured us that it was. They were still getting the photos and music together and would have them to us soon.

Two more weeks passes and we don’t hear anything from them. We don’t think too much about it because, thankfully, there’s more than enough other work to keep us busy. But on Friday afternoon, when we get back to the office from a meeting, there’s two voice mail messages waiting for us, asking if we got the Fed Ex package.

I react like my leash had been yanked ““ I think we should call them back immediately. However, once Steve and I talk about it, he reminds me that I don’t need to get caught up in their panic. Steve’s going to be out the rest of the day so he suggests that I call them back later that afternoon to let them know we got the package and that we’ll talk in depth about it next week.

However, when I walk in the door, before I can even set my purse down, the office phone rings. Although I feel a little guilty, I think Caller ID was made for times like this; it’s them again. I don’t answer it. About 5 seconds later the home phone rings. Once again I let technology run interference for me and listen to the message left on the answering machine. “Hi, this is Bob, sorry to call you at home, but I just wanted to make sure you got the Fed Ex and see if you’ve had a chance to take a look at it.” Because we have a home office, if they want to track us down, it’s not hard because they literally know where we live. Much more of this, and I’m going to feel like we’re being stalked.

In the big picture of running a business, we’re not so busy that we turn away work so we’re glad the project is still happening. However, these people don’t know or care, nor should they, that a lot has happened in the two weeks since we last spoke. During that time, we have promised other clients that they would see some progress on their projects.

It’s a little cold to tell them to take a number and go to the back of the line. They are no different from any customer who is waiting to be served. It’s just that in our business, unlike the deli counter, our clients can’t see how many people are in front of them.

Steve gives me a little coaching before I call them back. “Explain why it will be a day or two before we can get to their project. But you don’t need to offer excuses; we’ve haven’t done anything wrong.”

When I call them back later that afternoon, I try to assure them that we’ll get started as soon as we can, but because of other commitments it won’t be until Tuesday. The client’s assistant pushes back, “Mmm”¦not until Tuesday”¦darn”¦how long do you think it will take Steve to do the work? I resist the urge to come back with, “We don’t hear from you for weeks and then you expect us to drop everything, ignore our other clients, and make your project the hottest priority?”

Actually, I know the answer to this question. It’s “yes.”

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