It happens to all of us. Just when you think you and your clients are hitting if off and all tasks are getting completed on time, there’s ‘radio silence’ all of a sudden.
Where did that person disappear?
Why haven’t they responded to your emails?
You understand that people get busy but you also want to know if you should continue working with them. You might lose a potential business opportunity or end up taking the blame for missed deadlines for no fault of your own.
At some point in time, you will come across clients who suddenly turn unresponsive after having what you thought was a productive conversation. In some cases, such a scenario can emerge even after you’ve signed on the dotted line.
It’s frustrating, yes. But there’re ways to deal with such situations, besides of course cultivating healthy client relationships. Here in this post, we will discuss how you can handle unresponsive clients.
1. Understand the root cause of unresponsiveness
Your strategy for dealing with unresponsive clients can be only as good as your understanding of the reason why they disengage in the first place.
In most cases, it comes down to a few things such as:
- Your client is buried in emails
- There have been some internal changes at the client company; it is possible the budget and resource allocation for products and services (that concern you) are being reevaluated
- Your client company is understaffed
- Your client is waiting for internal feedback before they answer you back
- There is some bad news and they are avoiding you for now because they are waiting for the right time to share it with you
- You haven’t set a realistic project timeline
If you want to identify and prepare for such situations before they arise, you need to set proper communication expectations at the outset and train your client relationship professionals on how to handle unresponsive customers or clients.
2. Always schedule a follow-up before you end a meeting
As soon as you sign up for a project, make it a habit not to leave the schedule open-ended.
Do not wrap-up the first or any other meeting (whether online or offline) without scheduling a follow-up.
This way, you don’t have to send fresh emails or messages to your clients and wait for their responses each time –
- A milestone is completed
- You need to discuss something with the client
- You need to discuss the progress of a project
- You need their feedback on various tasks completed after the previous meeting
3. Have a contingency plan for clients
Don’t hesitate to ask your clients things like, “How can we continue working on the project, just in case our project manager doesn’t hear from you?”
While some clients will insist they’d be available whenever necessary or provide you with a list of alternate contact-persons for future follow-ups, others may trust you enough to make decisions on their behalf.
In either case, you’ll have a backup plan in place so that your timeline and deliverables can press forward when a client is unresponsive.
4. Stop using calendar due-dates
Calendar due-dates are hardly useful, especially when you have an unresponsive client.
Let’s say you need to complete a project in around eight weeks in six milestones. Before your team begins working on the next milestone, you require some inputs from the client. So, if the project begins on January 1st, you can hope to complete it by February 28th.
But, what happens when the client doesn’t respond to emails or return phone calls after your team completes the fourth stage? Can you still complete the project by February 28th? No.
To make sure your clients shoulder the burden of staying within the timeline, you can set deadlines or due dates in ‘number of days.’
In the example discussed above, you can create a more visual and realistic timeline by stating things like, “We will deliver the 4th milestone, five working days after we receive inputs for it.”
This way, your clients will better understand the consequences of missing small deadlines.
5. Plan ahead to ensure smooth communication
Do not simply assume that you can communicate with your clients via email, instant messenger, Skype, or phone calls.
You need to ask them to find out their preferred mode of communication. Also, there are people who just don’t understand that it’s rude to leave emails unanswered.
While some of your clients may be comfortable with routine face-to-face meetings, others may consciously or unconsciously keep ignoring your requests for holding such meetings.
Some clients turn unresponsive simply because they have a hectic schedule and can’t keep up with emails.
On such occasions, you can make a quick phone call or drop a text to get them to respond to your email.
You need to gauge what works best in different situations.
6. Be upfront about the consequences of missed deadlines
Do not hesitate to state things in clear terms: “If we do not get A, we cannot deliver B or make C happen.”
Most clients will take serious note of it. After all, they don’t want their projects to fail.
If you don’t put such things in concrete terms at the outset of the project, you risk getting blamed for missed deadlines.
7. Go to another person at the client company
This option isn’t always recommended but copying a boss or a senior manager can actually get the ball rolling.
For example, you can copy a boss in a polite follow-up email such as:
We hope you’re well.
We have been trying to reach you for feedback on the milestone no. 4. Could you please let us know if we can connect for a quick phone call tomorrow? We may not be able to complete the project by Feb 28th if there are any more delays.”
Use it as the last resort if you must; you may end up offending project managers or vendor relationship managers at the client company if you are not careful.
If there is someone else at the client company with whom you’ve had a positive relationship with in the past, you can reach out to them to get things moving.
In some cases, you can’t even wait for people at a client company to respond. For instance, if you are handling a client’s online reputation, and there’s a crisis situation, you need to alert the higher-ups as soon as possible.
In any case, avoid placing blame on anyone.
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Simon is one of the founders and head of operations at 405 Ads. Simon serves as an online marketing manager to businesses and agencies worldwide. His overall business and marketing experience has helped hundreds of business owners get their presence done right when it comes to today’s online world.