Are Your Customers Getting Ghosted?

I was working with a prominent speaker's bureau to land a keynote. The agent and I agreed that I was uniquely suited for this assignment, given my history in the industry of her prospect. When the engagement date was getting closer and I had not gotten a contract, I reached out to the bureau agent, a seasoned pro. She delivered the odd verdict on my status as this company's keynote speaker—not a "yes," and not a "no."

"She ghosted me," she said. "You were a finalist. In fact, the contact with whom I was working indicated you were their top candidate. And then she went postal on me and completely disappeared. She will not call me back or respond to any of my emails. I would suggest you release this hold."

Intentional Indifference

Ghosting is a relatively new word to mean intentionally ignoring someone on the other end of a communication interchange. It is an advanced form of methodical ignoring. Its origin grew out of the dating world, primarily associated with online dating sites. After an initial date, instead of courageously owning the position that "he's just not that into you," there is complete silence. Mental health professionals consider it a form of passive-aggressive behavior that can be viewed as emotional abuse.

Since that experience, I have noticed the emerging tendency of others to avoid taking a stand and opting to ghost. There was a time when one felt some responsibility to close the loop if someone initiated a communication, especially when there was a history with the communication initiator. The agent at the bureau had several conversations with the prospect as they together worked to find the best speaker for their event. So, it was not a stranger coming out of the blue to waste the agent’s time, nor was it a vendor seeking to sell a product she did not want.

Customers abhor indifferent service more than they hate bad service. Customers can explain away (at least in their mind) service that is mediocre or bad, chalking it up as the fault of a flawed process, ill-designed system, poor frontline training, or weak leadership—all excuses for poor service they receive. But indifference spells, "You don't give a rat's a_ _." And ghosting is clearly a form of indifference. When you get ghosted, your reaction sounds like, "I left them a message but they never called me back," "When is someone going to take our order," or any response that causes a customer to think, "Why do they make it so hard for me to give them money?"

Landing in a Black Hole

People who ghost rationalize the practice as a tool for time management, productivity, and a means to minimize low priority distractions. But consider the perspective of the folks who are taking care of your bottom line—your customers. As a customer, how many times have you contacted a company for service and quickly realized they were using their phone as an answering machine, not as a tool for communications? How often have you labeled emails you send as “landing in a black hole”? How many times have you been passed around from Pam to Paul to Sue to Sam? These are all ghosting experiences.

Ghosting is a service disease. It is a function of laziness and/or fearfulness. It is a component of hiding and snubbing. And it creates more customer rage than anything you can do. Ghosting is a tool of avoidance—risk-averse behavior delivered by emotionally battered employees who are told to "stick to our rules" instead of "take care of our customers." As a habit, it weakens and robs the self-esteem of those who need to be emotionally bulletproof in their frontline service performance. Left unchecked, it can engender a callous orientation and an arrogant attitude.

Stop ghosting and its insidious consequences. Free communications, even at the risk of an occasion crank call, spurious email, or time-wasting junk communication in your electronic inbox. Be kind in your communication practices. Silence is not golden when your customers are expecting a response. Be boldly honest instead of spitefully sidestepping a position. It will pay off in higher quality communication and more loyal customers.

Twitter feed is not available at the moment.