During a purchasing round where more than one item from one supplier is procured, it is best to keep call or contact records and call-back reminders in a simple pop-up, time-based alert application. Because there is a high likelihood that several calls will be made in one day, some portion of those initial contacts will require follow-up conversations.
When a distributor tells you that it will call back in an hour, it is very easy to let two or three hours go by while you are working on something else. By the time you remember that you were going to be called back, it is now 2:35 p.m. Pacific Time, and the promised returned call was going to be placed from New York. Here is where you convince yourself that he or she may still be in the office and ready to provide the much-needed information.
You say a few things under your breath and decide to give the recalcitrant responder the benefit of the doubt. So you dial the long-distance number, wade through the telephone message menus, and finally you're connected to the relevant contact person's phone where you hear, “I can't come to the phone right now. I am either away from my desk or not anywhere where you can find me.” What has happened?
You lost a day and have just given yourself another “to-do” item for the following day. Things really go south if it is Friday and you had to have the job wrapped up by… Friday. If this happens with more than one supplier during the same day, you will find yourself repeating many of the current day's activities, because you now have to make up for lost time and poor results.
Here is a good way to reduce these incidents of repeat poor results. When you call, have an application open on your computer like MS OneNote or Outlook where you can set an alert reminder tied to a specific action. As soon as the person answers the phone, record the date and time of the phone call. Be sure to get the contact's name, extension number, and, if possible, a mobile number. Getting the direct number or extension will save you the hassle and delay of the phone menu system. And, if you have the cell number, you can reach the person even if he is on his way home from the office.
Indicate in your notes the gist of the call and any agreements or price quotes and quantities discussed. If the contact says he will call you back in one hour, you say to him something like, “It is 10:30 a.m. my time. I will expect a call from you at or around 11:30 a.m. If I haven't heard from you by 12 noon, I will call back to see what progress you have made towards getting our answer.”
Then, be sure to get his buy-in on the call-back time, and tell him you are entering the time into your call-back alert system. Now, he is accountable to return the call as agreed upon. Also, be sure to tell him to call you even if he does not have an answer yet. This will adjust your own expectation for the open item completion time and will allow you to reset and record the new call-back time.
This practice seems somewhat intuitive, and each individual may have his or her own telephone follow-up procedure that works equally as well, but if you haven't got a system to manage the many daily phone calls, something as easy as setting a clock alert to remind you of a promised return action or call will save you much aggravation and delay.
Sometimes our own best-practices help others stay on their toes as well. It is easy to understand and excuse a situation where the contact person did not get the answer from his resource. It is very difficult to accept the fact that he did not call back to tell you that he does not have the information yet.
Today, I called a distributor and ordered a part from a Web application telling me to call the distributor for a quote. I called and asked for availability and pricing because I knew the part had gone to end-of-life status this past January. They had 40 of the 50 pieces I needed in stock, but the inside salesperson had to wait for someone to come back from lunch before she could quote a price. She said, “He's at lunch right now and should be back in an hour or so.” I said, “Please call me as soon as you have the information. I will call back at 1:00 p.m., if it is OK with you.” She said, “Fine.”
I called back after about one hour and fifteen minutes, and she apologized for not having called and said she did not yet have the information. We reset the call-back time, and when she called as scheduled, she gave me the price and an additional apology for taking so long. I placed the order and am now waiting for the promised email confirmation order acknowledgement.
I don't know whether her resource came back late or whether she just failed to remember to ask. It took two phone calls on my part to make sure the job would be done. It was a good thing that I had set myself a reminder; otherwise, I may be still waiting to place the order. We all need reminders from time to time. How much better is it to have a reminder on the backburner all of the time? It tightens up business and helps avoid time-critical information vacuums.