I recently made a few enquiries online about a home improvement product, and I thought the range of responses was interesting, and worth some discussion. As marketers, we all have decisions to make as to how we follow up enquiries, and our choices can have consequences that are more important than the quality or price of our products.
My enquiries were all made via the suppliers’ websites. I did it this way because it was convenient for me to do it out of office hours, but also because I thought it would be quicker than telephoning. I’m sure this can be the case with many enquirers; others might also use email/web forms because they simply don’t like using the telephone.
What I found on the suppliers’ websites varied enormously. One just provided email and phone numbers for me; three had enquiry forms, one of which insisted on me supplying my telephone number (which might have been offputting to some); only one of these forms really asked what I wanted, and how I’d like the company to reply.
The best of the responses from suppliers sent me an automated email acknowledging my request instantly. This was also useful, as it gave me a short introduction to the company and some information about a government grant that I was unaware of. I warmed to them, and when they followed up with a phone call the next day, I was pleased to chat. However, they were actually beaten to it by a call from the company that had insisted on me supplying my telephone number, so at least that requirement was for a reason.
A third company had also responded with an automated email, but it was no more than a one line acknowledgement. That company then followed up two days later with a proper email containing some product information and some options for getting in touch, and I received a paper catalogue the day after. The first two companies were also happy to send catalogues, but were obviously only going to do so dependent on the outcome of their phone calls. I wondered why this company took two days to email me. Their response was (apparently) from a sales manager. I visualised my enquiry coming in, being manually added to some database, then being passed on to sales for follow-up, each step adding more delay.
The fourth company didn’t respond at all. I’m sure they’d have wanted to service my enquiry. So I wonder if they even got it? Maybe it ended up in some spam folder? I will never know.
Responses make a difference
So what worked well? The automated instant acknowledgement of my enquiry by email, with some useful links in it, was essential. This could be auto-generated whether the enquiry was from a web form or from an email address. Making it more productive than just a one-liner seems pretty easy. Every company must be able to point out some useful stuff (case studies, perhaps, or testimonials) on their website that enquirers might have missed.
Crucially, the response email (whether instantly auto-generated or manual some time later) put the supplier’s details in my inbox. I’m not sure now if I could recall the name of all the companies I contacted!
Fast follow-up was great, obviously. If I was the kind of person who didn’t want a call, I’d have preferred the supplier that followed up by email; yet only one company asked how I’d prefer the follow-up. A catalogue in the post very quickly was also appreciated, and while it was fine that some suppliers probably only sent one out after they’d spoken to me on the phone, I would have hoped that had they not got through first time, they’d have sent it anyway.
In the end, my choice went to price and perceived company credibility and service, as you would expect. But by that time I had narrowed down the selection from four to two suppliers, based on the efficiency and friendliness of their response. And that may be a lesson for many of us.