A while back I phoned a shop that I wanted to buy something from.
The sale required almost no effort from them. I knew what I wanted and had to get one.
I wasn’t really surprised to get an answering machine. I left a message outlining what I wanted and left my number.
I waited a full day without a response. I rang back and got the answering machine again. This time I didn’t leave a message. I figured the old one was either still there or hadn’t worked. In either case I wasn’t leaving another message.
Things were taking too long so I had to go out of my way to drop in to the store.
What happened in the store is a whole other story on bad service.
It got me thinking though. Just why the hell do these people have an answering machine?
Clearly they didn’t use it. I would have preferred if the phone rang out. At least I would have known no-one was available and that I wasn’t going to get a call back. As it was I had been given false hope.
From the store’s perspective the machine had captured the details of a buyer ready to go and that opportunity had slipped through their fingers.
Why would a business do that?
I wondered if I was doing anything like that? I wondered if I was being inconsistent or misleading with the way I handle inquiries I’d already worked hard to receive.
It occurred to me that there are a lot of things that business people do that accidentally deliver the wrong message to clients. It could be shops that aren’t open when customers are around, email addresses that never receive replies, advertising that points to unfinished products or resources (I can’t tell you the number advertisements I’ve seen where the web site is promoted as being a source of information and it actually ends up being a waste of time).
As an aside, I've also seen numerous advertising campaigns that assume the viewer knows which town or city "Main road" is in. I've seen numerous advertising campaigns for businesses named "Just <something>" which then go on to explain that they do "more than just <something>". WHAT IS THE FRICKEN POINT???? It seems like the business is just fighting itself or at the very least wasting money through simply not paying attention to who their audience is.
In the world of design and engineering there are things called “natural affordances”. These are things that automatically lead humans to a certain type of behaviour without them even really knowing most of the time.
For example, the flat plate on door that says “push”. What else can you do when there is no handle to grab?
Then what do we do automatically when there is a handle to grab? We twist and pull right!? We feel like dills when we twist and pull only to find it needs to be pushed. It isn’t us, the door installation and hardware is inconsistent and misleading.
To me the answering machine was like that. There was an implied behaviour and a contract that had been left unfulfilled.
Of course it is OK to have a handle on a door and an answering machine to take calls.
It is also OK not to have them at all or use them in a misleading function. Ultimately you are only really impacting yourself. The people who are frustrated by these things will drift away from you and may not even know why.
Sometimes simply not having a facility is a great way to streamline processes around it. Just having something because someone said so isn't good enough when it doesn't suit your mode of operations. If you don't like answering machines, then don't have one. Maybe you are getting so much work you don't need to capture customers as they contact you. That's good for you.
In the online world a customer's attention span is measured in seconds. Offer them something broken and they'll go away instantly. There are thousands like you. Why should they waste time working out what is wrong?
Naturally it would be smarter to apply just a little extra thought before deploying a system to ensure the results are at least close to what everyone expects.