I am still waiting for the response from them. To think it has taken the better part of three weeks just to get information on rates is as frustrating as it is surprising. But I guess, in this part of the world, this is to be expected. All I needed was the cost of shipping some tonnes of agro-products out of the country. I did not think price quotes should take more than a few minutes, or, at most, a couple of hours. Evidently, I was wrong because I am still waiting. Weeks of regularly calling to find out if the information is available has yielded nothing.
Although many businesses strive to achieve it, perfection is rarely attained. Customers do not always get what they want when they want it. This is why, on many occasions, customers have to wait for some kind of response from a business. Waiting is very much a part and parcel of the customer’s experience.
Therefore, customers are not too surprised when they have to wait. They expect it. Test results take a while, sometimes weeks or months. Some products take a while to produce. Price quotes also might take a bit of time. Even that which is referred to as “fast food” is not that fast. It requires some waiting.
Customers come into the experience with an expectation of how long they have to wait. The only problem with waiting is when it goes beyond the customer’s expectation. When the waiting period is shorter than the customer expects or the business promises, the customer is delighted. However, if the waiting period goes beyond the expectation, then there is a problem.
Two things happen whenever a customer has to wait for service. The first is that the business has to notify the customer when the service or product is ready. The second is that the customer has to inquire from the business if the product or service is ready. In other words, with notification, the onus is on the business while with enquiry, the burden of performance is on the customer. In many instances, these two things occur along one smooth continuum and so they pass without much notice.
For instance, while waiting in the restaurant for one’s order, a waiter can inform the customer when the food is going to be ready. However, if the time goes beyond what the customer expects, the customer can call the waiter and inquire when the food will be ready. When I call my barber to inform him that I want to come in for a haircut on a particular day, he will normally notify me when he is free. If I do not hear from him after a while, I will call to make an enquiry about when he will be free for me to come over. In many interactions between businesses and customers, notification and enquiry go hand in hand.
As with any two processes, there are always bound to be advantages and disadvantages among the two. There are going to be times when one process would be more advantageous to either the customer or the business. In most instances, though, an advantage for one ends up being a disadvantage for the other, and vice versa.
Of the two processes, however, it can be said that notifications can have more of an impact on the perception of the customer on the organisation’s service quality. This is because with notifications, it is the organisation performing the act and therefore it can be used to impress the customer. Regular notification to customers during the waiting period gives customers the impression that the business truly cares about them.
One of the key reasons why enquiries do not sit too well with customers is the stress that they have to go through when trying to reach the business. Phone calls are not answered on time. Emails do to receive responses on time. In the case I referred to from the onset, I had to first register my mail in the system of this shipping line for my email to be validated before I could make the inquiry. I have done that and it has been more than a week, I am still waiting to be notified. Things are no better even if a customer decides to go to the premises of the office in person to make the enquiry. Sometimes, the vehicular traffic alone can put one off.
Also, expecting customers to call places a burden on the customer to remember to call at the right time. With the busy schedules of most customers, the chances of those enquiries being missed are high. When that happens, the customer loses out—and that customer might walk away for good. Even the most monopolistic of establishments cannot afford to push the enquiry button too far because there is always an alternative.
Also expecting the customer to call can backfire. For instance, the customer can change his or her mind and walk away. It is not unusual for customers to decide against making a purchase, especially if the customer has not paid any money as yet. I once witnessed a customer at a pizza joint walk away after a lengthy waiting period. The customer had not paid and so had absolutely no problem walking away. I doubt if the customer would have taken that action if the waiter had regularly notified him about how long he had to wait. The lack of regular notification made the customer feel neglected and he left.
Also, it is very possible that competitors can swoop in and take the business away. A customer who makes an enquiry about the availability of a particular product or service more often than not is in the market for that particular thing. If while the one is waiting the organisation does not keep in close contact with him or her, the chances of the competition benefitting becomes very high.
From the ongoing, one can confidently surmise that great customer service can be achieved more from notifications than from enquiries. Customers do not have to call the business before they are told that a service or a product is available. It is better for the customer to be notified when the service is available. Customer-focused businesses tell customers not to call. They rather do the calling. They know that among other advantages, calling makes the customer feel special.
The advantage of notification over enquiry was laid bare recently in a study published in the March 2020 edition of the Psychology & Marketing journal. The study was a collaboration between researchers from two Israeli universities and the University of Sydney. The study sought to find out the effects of notification and enquiry on the perception of customers about waiting periods.
Not surprisingly, it came to light that when customers were notified, they had more positive perceptions of the waiting period than when they had to enquire. Customers who were notified were also “less sensitive to deviations of actual from promised wait time than are users of an inquiry system.”
The study further found out that the advantage notification systems had over enquiry systems was more pronounced when the waiting was longer than promised. In short, if an organisation wants to keep its customers happy when it goes beyond the time it has promised to deliver, that organisation is better off reaching out to its customers than to wait for the customers to reach out to it. Waiting for the customer to call is not the best because by the time that customer calls, he or she would already be fuming.
Another important finding of the aforementioned study was that a week after customers were contacted regarding a follow-up task, it was found that those who had inquired rather than had been notified were a lot more reluctant to do the follow-up task. To put it another way, making customers wait for longer than expected periods and waiting for the customers to reach out to the customer can have a negative impact on the repurchase intentions of the customer. The double frustration of having to wait for long and also having to call rather than being called can drive the customer away for good.
In these tech-drenched times, organisations have a variety of ways by which they can get notifications out to customers. From simple text messages to an individual customer’s phone, the use of email messaging all the way to the most advanced notification systems, there is always a way technology can help businesses notify customers when a service or product is ready. No matter the budget of the business, there is always a technology can be used to notify customers when there is a need.
In my experience, many businesses fail when it comes to the Notification vs Enquiry game. There is the tendency for these businesses to think that it is the customer who wants the product or service, so he or she must be the one to call. This is most unfortunate. As we have seen from the continuing discussion, customers become frustrated when they are treated this way and a frustrated customer will not remain a customer for long. Notification, as can be seen, trumps Enquiry in the Waiting Game. Smart businesses know which of the two systems to support. By the way, did I mention that I am still waiting for the shipping line to get back to me?