Answer Me! …or, Y’Know What? Don’t.

June 27, 2018

An unanswered query can often tell you all you need to know.

I run a social-group page on Facebook. Nothing to do with radiology; it actually pertains to a silly little cellphone game that has somehow caught my attention. The game works best if you can communicate with other players, but the in-game messaging system is rather clunky, so I decided to move the conversation to a better venue.

It seems that Facebook regards my social page as it would a business, at least in some ways. Every now and then, I’m given pointers about how I might improve my reach (only some of which involve giving FB money). In particular, FB has noticed that I am very responsive to inquiries, answering them without fail and often very promptly.

To me, this is a no-brainer. If you want people to transact with you, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for you to demonstrate that you can’t/won’t transact back.

Regular readers of this column will probably recall that I have, in the past few years, boggled at how frequently folks seeking my business (contractors, electricians, plumbers, etc.) demonstrate precisely such maladaptive behavior. That is, they fail to return phone-calls or other communications, even commit no-shows without notice or apology. Often, if I don’t pursue them afterwards, I will never hear from them again.

Indeed, one of the reasons why I started working with vRad back in 2011 was the simple fact that, of the various telerad companies I contacted, they were in a vanishingly small minority that actually responded to my missives. That is, they called (or emailed, I forget) back.
When an entity, be it an individual or a massive corporation, fails to do this basic thing, it strikes me as meaning one (or more) of three things:

• They have no interest in what I am buying/selling. To the point that it’s not even worth their time to demonstrate the courtesy of a “Thanks, but no” for the purpose of closure.
• They might be interested, but they are playing games. Maybe “hard to get,” so when they do interact with me I’ll be humbler and/or more desperate for whatever crumbs they throw my way.
• They don’t have their act together enough to properly handle inquiries.

I find, at least in our radiological/healthcare corner of the world, that last one to be involved in the overwhelming majority of cases. Especially when you’re dealing with telerad, which of course has been my gig for the past almost-seven years.

In this line of work where emails, instant messages, and phone calls substitute for in-person interaction, it is especially easy for communications to fall through the cracks. If you want any chance at success, you’d darned well better be vigilant about the matter, and have policies and procedures dedicated to it. Someone posing a question to your operation and being left hanging should be a “never event” for you. Someone in your organization responsible for even a couple of thusly fumbled balls should at least receive a strong talking-to, possibly even be let go.

Even if your operations are airtight, the first two reasons I listed for failing to complete a circuit of inquiry should be used rarely, if at all. No matter what your reasons were, the outsider you’re dealing with is not going to wind up with a warm-n-fuzzy feeling about his interactions with you. Whether he comes away thinking you were playing games, uninterested to the point of discourtesy, or woefully disorganized-that’s how he’s going to remember you. Maybe even a decade down the line, at a juncture when you’ve gotten your act together better and you desperately want to do business with him.

I’ve actually come to think of it as an unintended courtesy when my inquiries go unanswered, as annoying as it is to have my time wasted in the process. To me, that’s the other party giving me a nice, free look at how their operation is conducting its affairs. Leave me hanging? Thanks, you just confirmed I want to have nothing to do with you…and no matter how much you dress yourself up down the line, this is the lasting impression you’ve made upon me.