I'm not talking about "getting it" as in "I get that you're just not into me" or "Stay away from me - I got it."
I mean, simply acknowledging that you got someone's email, letter, message, enquiry, job application or order for fluffy slippers.
I'm noticing a disturbing trend in business non-interactions: the non-response being offered up as a response.
Whether it's a job application, a follow-up, an eBay or Craigslist purchase, people are sincerely and faithfully not responding.
The Cingular "dropped call" campaign dramatized the perils of non-response due to technology failure, with people jumping to wrong conclusions, off buildings and down people's throats - and the fallout can be as damaging as the Cingular ads illustrate.
First, your non-response causes the non-recipient to switch from thinking warmly about your product, your company, and yourself, to bleakly. If they manage to pin your name or face to an email address will tell 10,000 others on the internet. Continue to non-respond, and they will plot and scheme to hire a Unabomber to erase you and your lousy widget from the planet. Just like road rage causes some to roll down a window and pull a gun? I assert that non-responding taps the same neural pathways.
I recently applied for a gig which sounded like it suited me down to the ground. Let me share with you the job description:
About the Client Relationship Manager:
Our clients aren't interested in data; they aren't interested in crunching numbers - they're interested in getting answers to critical business questions. Our relationship managers ... excel at listening to our clients, understanding their questions ...
* You are friendly, motivated, and smart
* You find business endlessly fascinating
* You like talking to people
* You are comfortable crunching numbers and drawing conclusions based on the crunched numbers
* You like technology but are happy to let really smart MIT computer scientists build it
* You have a bachelor's degree
* You might have a few years of relationship management experience
* You might know something about global trade
* You're cheesy enough to care about making people happy and making the world a better place
It's a refreshing job description, isn't it? I prepared a response, sent it off, then waited for an "I got it". The ad prohibited phone calls. I followed up a couple of times just to make sure it landed. Nothing. Carrier pigeon, anyone?
The ad wanted someone "cheesy enough to care about making people happy and making the world a better place". Acknowledging a person - even by auto-responder - would certainly make the world a better place. A Customer Evangelist - a 24/7 Client Relationship Manager - "gets" this.
A good customer spoke to me for the first time in 3 years. For some reason, I never responded to a string of his emails. He admits to spending those 3 years stewing over it and sticking pins in a small, Oriental-looking rag doll. His emails must have gone into a black hole because I try, how I try, to answer every email, even if just to auto-respond, "I got it."
I recently bought a laptop protector from a company called iPearl Inc for $29.95. It arrived damaged. The company told me to send it back for a refund. I sent it and posted pictures of it. No response. Several months and emails later, no sign of my PayPal refund, and they're still blithely selling the things (I finally received customer satisfaction as a result of this blog post, thank you iPearl Inc).
So, I started thinking murderously. Trawling the internet for ways to trace the owner, so I can hire a pyromanic with a flame thrower to torch their warehouse and blow up pallet after pallet of Made-in-China iPearl laptop covers sky high. I feel embarrassed for the entire Chinese race, of which I'm a card carrying member. Even if they simply wrote "Sorry the cover arrived damaged, and we blame it on you", it would be more definitive than a Non Response.
Once, when the first contractor to sew my Traffic Cone Bag went e-AWOL, I eventually cross-haired her Las Vegas picket fence on Google Earth and sent someone from my 25,000 strong customer community to her door to save her the problematic trip to the post office. A simple "Got it, can't do it, luv" would have stopped me from stalking her and the $500 I eventually lost on trusting her.
And then there was the fancy hamper company that didn't send a timely acknowledgement of a gift. I felt I had to verify the contents with the birthday girl, in case they'd swapped out the fancy soap Dial Deodorant and the Marcona almonds for Planter's Peanuts and ... you get the idea.
Failing to say, "I got it" erodes the cornerstone of an enduring relationship: trust. "Without trust, we cannot start," an artist in Indonesia once told me, as he asked for half the money up front.
Non-responding damages trust between friends and family too.
"I send cards with money to nieces and nephews, and silence is now the norm," laments a friend. "You don't know if they actually got the money. Or got abducted." Technology has so reduced the attention span of youth that they neglect to text "thx, got."
So how to respond and stay sane?
Let thoughtful auto-responders do your dirty work:
1. Job applications submitted by email - set up an auto responder to state that the application landed. This indicates to the sender they got your email address right. "We received your application with thanks. You'll be hearing from us if we have more questions for you." It's that simple. See the example from Six Apart below.
2. If the candidate is clearly not suitable for the job, super decent companies will auto-respond something like: "Thank you for your recent application. Your skills don't quite fit our requirements at this time ..."
3. If you trawl through hundreds of emails each day, shoot back "I got it, stand by." That's pretty easy to cut and paste. Or, paste: "I got it. I'm flat out like a lizard drinking, so if I haven't gotten back to you in a week, or if it utterly can't wait, poke me again. Please."
People will understand - we're all busy.
4. For nieces and nephews who are sent money - just call and say thank you, or it might be your last windfall ever.
5. Check your junk email box. Often.
"I read you", "Roger", "over and out" and other forms of voice procedure - and were invented for a reason.
Voice procedure communications are intended to maximize clarity of spoken communication and reduce misunderstanding - Wikipedia.
The need for clarity didn't end when we stopped talking and started emailing.
You spend millions building up trust in your brand. You can destroy it in minutes for the sake of three words. "I got it." It's the "I love you" and "Just do it" of the new decade.
The origin of the non-response conundrum?
She: "Do you think she's more attractive them me?"
He: (no response)
UPDATE: An example of a good 'auto response' from Six Apart
01/08/2010 22:03:24 Thank you for your interest in Six Apart Ltd. We received your resume and look forward to reviewing it. If your background and experience are a good match for the position, we will be in touch shortly. In the event you are not contacted, please be assured that we will keep your resume on file so that you may be considered for future opportunities. Again, we appreciate your interest in Six Apart Ltd. and we wish you all the best with your job search. Six Apart Recruiting
The recruiters at Six Apart may do nothing more with your resume than use it as a virtual beer coaster, but it leaves you with a better feeling about the company, its products and staff than silence.
Customer Evangelist the Galfromdownunder traveled the world as a 24/7 spokesperson, homestaying with customers as an invited guest, simply by saying, "I got it."
A version of this article appeared in the December/January 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.