An online column I posted this fall triggered a huge response, so I feel obliged to reproduce it in shortened form here.
I was contacted a while back by an organization that needed help putting together a list of service providers in the waste and recycling industry to manage a mixed waste stream. I decided to help out, as the assignment seemed straightforward, but was shocked by what I learned.
It turns out that many companies in our industry needlessly make it difficult (and in some cases, nearly impossible) to contact them, either by phone, email or the web. It’s often very difficult to reach the right person.
Remember, I wasn’t calling to sell them something. Instead, I was trying to get them listed for the opportunity to bid on a lucrative contract!
I won’t name and names, of course, but if I did you’d be shocked. Here are some of the stupid mistakes that waste and recycling companies make that turn away new business.
1. Phone systems. Many (and I mean many) companies have a totally off-putting and dysfunctional voicemail system. Very often there is simply no way to reach a live human being; a very generic outgoing message allows callers to access an automated directory. But if we’re talking about new business, I probably don’t know yet who I need to talk to, so this option is useless.
After I left messages in general delivery voice boxes, how long do you think it took for me to get a reply? A day? Two days? A week? How about... never! Yes, there were a number of companies that simply never called me back!
In one case, a significant industry player finally got back to me about a month after the window of opportunity expired.
2. Reception staff. Some companies have very off-putting, poorly-trained staff that answer the phones. A receptionist should be polite and helpful, and able to guide me to the best person to speak with, right?
In many instances receptionists spoke to me as if I was an unwanted interruption to whatever important business they were attending to: more important business than, um, helping their company potentially win a lucrative long-term waste management contract! Many hadn’t a clue who the right person was to speak with about new business. Some wouldn’t give out phone numbers or email addresses (even though some of these later turned out to be available on the company website).
So, make sure your reception staff are trained not to be dismissive of new business opportunities.
3. Disinterested sales staff. Sometimes I managed to get through to the voicemail of a salesperson (yippee!) and told them about the project and what I needed from them. You’d think a “sales” person would get all over that. Yet often I’d never hear back from the person, despite repeated calls. (I began to wonder how our economy functions at all!)
4. Websites from hell. For my journalism job I often visit company websites to glean certain kinds of information, but until I went through this exercise I never realized how awful many websites are, including some from major publicly-traded companies.
Some companies seem to have bought into the idea from their IT staff that they shouldn’t provide email addresses and other contact info for staff, to avoid web “spiders” and various forms of spam. But that’s no excuse for not providing them in any kind of format. A common thing I encountered was dreadful generic “contact us forms” with no other information. Sometimes I had no way of knowing what city (or even what country) the company was in, so I couldn’t even look up a phone number on my own.
If your company has this kind of contact information deficit on its website, fix it now. Please!
I encountered some major companies that have national and international divisions: their websites list all the hundreds of little offices and service sites, but nothing about the head office. There’s simply no way to speak with someone “in charge.” In other cases the head office info is designed only for the investment community, and offers no contact person for new business.
Do yourself and your company a favor and make sure your company is not guilty of the oversights listed above. And public sector organizations should also check for these problems. Make it easy for potential customers to reach the right person in your firm, and watch your bottom line grow!
Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org