A major healthcare provider, a pay TV company and a large mobile network - probably the ones of which you are thinking - were all in a position to bag me as a paying customer this week. I'd either seen their advertising or found their website - or both - and decided they had a service I was prepared to purchase. Only now, I won't be doing that. And all for one simple reason.
When I contacted them, they all failed to respond.
Two of them I spoke to over the telephone. They took my details and promised to call me back. Which they didn't. The third provided a 'call-back' form on their site, even allowing me the option of a time I wanted to be called. I completed the form, which resulted in complete silence.
Just imagine how much effort, time and currency an organisation such as these expends to attract a single customer. Think how many pieces of direct mail, how many TV spots, how many pay-per-click impressions they push out, to win over a punter. Certainly, in the case of direct mail, they'd be overjoyed to achieve a hit rate of 5%. And, in fact, their marketing efforts worked on me - I actively engaged with their brand, their offering, their proposition - to the extent that I invited them to seal the deal and sell me something. But they failed at the crucial point, closing the door just at the moment they had my custom on a plate. Seemingly, they just didn't care enough to acquire me as customer.
"I wonder how much business is lost this way."
The reason this is so pathetic, isn't that I was going to spend a vast fortune - I wasn't. It's the sheer waste of budget and resources, the damage to the brands and the loss of any future purchases they may have been able to persuade me to make. Unfortunately for them, I'm a stubborn old cove, and I shan't be approaching them again. Which means, on a micro scale, all their smart PR, advertising, web development and image building has been squandered. Because they couldn't be bothered to follow-up on my enquiry. Of course, I won't be alone. Which makes me wonder how much business is lost in this way each day.
I say 'they couldn't be bothered'. Actually I suspect it's far more pernicious than that. I imagine their organisation has become so bloated and inefficient, firm prospects simply vanish in a fog of complacency and poor management. Which is probably worse than laziness, and far harder to overcome.
So what can we learn from this depressing indifference and disappointment? Well, I'm quite sure the three companies in question won't learn a thing. I actually took the time to leave pithy comments describing their inaction on their Twitter feeds. They didn't respond to this either.
For the rest of us, those of us who advise clients and drive their campaigns, there's a valuable point. However brilliantly convincing, beautifully conceived and perfectly executed a brand, ad strategy, social media plan or website, it is completely pointless if the client is unwilling or unable to service the business these tools deliver. Sure, we'll do the job, spend the budget, but we can't close the deal. Ultimately, we can't care about customers on our clients' behalf. You can lead a horse to water...
Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant