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If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you’ll remember the scene at the opening of The Crooked Man when the detective drops in to pay Dr Watson a visit.

“Sorry to see you’ve had the British workman in the house, ” remarks Holmes as he hangs up his hat. “Not the drains, I hope?”

“No, the gas,” replies Watson.

“Ah!” explains Holmes. “He has left two nail-marks from his boot upon your linoleum just where the light strikes it!”

Whenever I read that passage, it always reminds me that the good old (or rather ‘bad old’) British attitude to customer service has been around for a very long time.

But recently I’ve faced a slightly different problem – trying to give firms my business. I’ve found it almost impossible.

Can I put some business your way?

The other week, I decided my main bathroom was looking a bit tired and in need of a redesign. Because I prefer to give my business to local firms, I did a bit of web research and I found a business I liked the look of.

Whenever I approach a company online, I always make a point of filling in the contact form on its website (that’s if I can find it!) I think it’s a really good test of a firm’s customer service and it allows me to discover:

1. How long they take to respond – how organised, proactive and responsive they are.

2. Whether I get an automated email acknowledgement – this is a nice touch, costs nothing and reassures me that my enquiry has not been lost in the ether!

3. Whether they call me or email me – if I supply a telephone number I would expect to be called or at least asked how I want to be contacted.

So I filled in the contact form on the website of my chosen supplier and waited to see whether they’d be interested in the £10,000+ of work I was offering to put their way.

I didn’t hear a thing.

And if they didn’t want the job enough to contact me, I certainly wasn’t going to chase them.

So I got back on the web and found another firm. I filled in the contact form and waited.

This time, I got a call a day later. It was a step up from being ignored completely, so we agreed a time for the company owner to visit.

He was late. But when he did arrive he was very helpful, thorough and left promising to email me a quote “within the next week or so”.

Guess what? He didn’t.

So I rang up his firm. “He’s on the other line”, the receptionist told me. “I’ll get him to call you right back”.

No call back. Nothing,

The next day I called again and got the same response and the same promise – that he’d call me back.

Again, he didn’t. So I decided to do him a favour by driving 30 minutes down the road to pay him a visit.

The receptionist was very surprised to see me and disappeared upstairs to fetch her boss. After the sort of delay that’s just long enough to prepare a quote in, he appeared saying: “Don’t worry, I’ve done your quote…”

Too little, too late. I simply explained why I now don’t want to hire his company.

This is a job where a lot more can go wrong than a few nail marks in the linoleum – and I won’t hire people if I don’t feel confident they’ll take my calls if things need sorting out.

Fair enough, don’t you think? So why did I get the distinct impression he thought my expectations were unreasonable?

How do YOU handle new business enquiries?

I know that businesses are stretched these days, especially as they try to keep down costs.

But if you only do one thing this week to safeguard your business’s future, I’d urge you to take a critical look at the way you handle new enquiries.

When a customer comes to you, they want to find reasons to give you their business. A quick call or a speedily delivered quote takes little effort but can deliver big results.

And if you’re too busy to take on a job, tell the customer – they’ll appreciate your honesty and may well come back to you later.

But if you get it wrong, you’re not only losing out on easy pickings and the chance to win repeat business, but you’ll be damaging your reputation as well.

And in this climate, that’s something none of us can afford to do.

Avatar for Jon Pryse-Jones
About Jon Pryse-Jones

Since joining THP in 1978, Jon Pryse-Jones has been hands on with every area of the business. Now specialising in strategy, business planning, and marketing, Jon remains at the forefront of the growth and development at THP.

An ideas man, Jon enjoys getting the most out of all situations, “I act as a catalyst for creative people and encourage them to think outside the box,” he says, “and I’m not afraid of being confrontational. It often leads to a better result for THP and its clients.”

Jon’s appreciation for THP extends to his fellow team members and the board.  “They really know how to run a successful business,” he says.  He’s keen on IT and systems development as critical to success, and he continues to guide THP to be at the cutting edge and effective.

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