The Black Hole

Don't let customer complaints or issues fall into the dreaded "black hole" where a hoping from a response from you becomes a lost cause. Even one incidence of this can ruin a long standing relationship you have with a customer, so make sure that no one on your team is a contributor to this practice.

When I experienced a technical problem and sent an email message to the online support address, I received an immediate automated acknowledgement giving me a ticket number and advising me that I'd be contacted within 48 hours with a response to my problem.

I appreciated receiving this acknowledgement because it reassured me that my query had been received. But 48 hours later, nothing. And 72 hours later, nothing. And . . . you guessed it. It's been two years now, and still nothing. My problem seems to have fallen into the Black Hole.

This experience is hardly unique. Many people I've talked with have told me about problems they've had that fell into the Black Hole. When I ask what they mean, they tell me about submitting queries and then never hearing back. No response, no follow-up, no explanation, no clue as to the status of the situation - or even when they'll be advised of the status.

What a clogged, congested place the Black Hole must be. Who knows, maybe after a hundred thousand years or so, it will eject its contents and customers will finally get the responses they've been waiting for. But most customers aren't that patient.

Are You a Contributor to the Black Hole?

If so, please be aware that failure to get a response makes customers grumble, grouse and give your department or company a bad name.

For some customers, not being notified of the status of the problem is even more aggravating than not having a resolution to it. Not knowing, and not knowing when they'll know, makes customers angry. And that anger is exacerbated when they've been advised that they will hear back within 48 hours.

I Don't Know When I'll Stop Not Knowing

True, sometimes things take longer than promised. Sometimes you just don't know how long it will take to fix a problem. And no one likes to contact a customer and say, "I don't know and I don't know when I will know." But most customers would rather know that than nothing at all.

Savvy service professionals don't let their customers feel ignored or forgotten, and that's true whether or not they know when a solution will be forthcoming. They regularly make updates available to customers, even if those updates consist of stating that there's been no change since the last update.

If customer satisfaction is important to you, make it a practice of asking yourself, Who has submitted a problem and wants to know what's happening? Who is expecting a follow-up call or awaiting an email update? Then contact those people. Don't contribute to the Black Hole. It's crowded enough there without your help.

User Comments

Anonymous's picture

I'd add that it is never too late to contact someone who fell into the Black Hole. You might think that 1 year later is too late but I would disagree. You obviously won't be calling to solve their problem. It is too late for that. You want to call to do damage control. Which means the front line people who answer support calls might not be the people who should be calling back. Someone from sales or marketing might be a better option.<br><br>You also want to make sure the next communication the customer receives is in response to their inquiry. I've had a software suite which did not work after I upgraded the operating system from Service Pack 2 to Service Pack 3. Service Pack 3 was a required upgrade; all our customers would be using SP3. I opened a support ticket with the software company, received a message indicating they received the ticket... then nothing. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. We HAD to have a functional software suite to complete our project. We looked up the company's competition, purchased their software suite and finished the project with the new software. Approximately 9 months after we filed the support ticket and 3 months after we shipped our project I received a bill from the SALES department telling me it was time to renew my $5000 support service contract.<br><br>For weeks after filing the support ticket, I called the company and even tried to talk to someone in sales but couldn't get anyone to return my call. We went on to spend $10,000,000 with the new software company over the next 5 years.<br>

January 27, 2010 - 10:19pm
Anonymous's picture

Darrell, good point that it's never to late to contact someone whose problem fell into the Black Hole. In fact, even a year later (as you pointed out), contacting customers who had been abandoned might be a worthwhile strategy for rebuilding customer confidence. There's nothing to lose and everything to gain. Your story is one all vendors or suppliers should pay attention to. Responding to inquiries and support tickets -- and in a timely manner -- has serious bottom line implications. And support organizations should get rid of their automatic acknowledgments if they don't intend to follow through. Thanks for sharing your experience. ~Naomi

January 27, 2010 - 10:27pm

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