Searching for Business Black Holes…

Hate to say it, but most businesses have “black holes.” Of course, I’m not talking about a region of space where nothing can escape. I’m talking about an aspect of your operation that is almost completely neglected. When something “slips through the cracks,” this is the crack it usually slips through.

After a few months as the Managing Editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer, I can tell you that one of the black holes of many (possibly even most) manufacturers is their general email address — the one that usually starts out as “info@…” or “customerservice@….”

In putting together content for the magazine, I often find myself attempting to reach tackle companies, but I frequently don’t have a solid contact point — a specific name or job title or go-to person who can push me through the maze of the company and get me to the person I need … or get me the information I’m looking for.

So I send an email to info@ and hope for the best. It’s a starting point until I find a person who can and will actually help me.

I don’t make these email addresses up out of the blue. I get them from the “Contact Us” page on the website. The companies are actually telling me to use that route and usually promise to get back to me within 24 hours or something like that. It’s a wonderful system.

Or it could be wonderful, if anyone at all were monitoring it. Unfortunately, the person assigned to monitor it was fired … or quit … or got busy and forgot about it many years ago. At least 90 percent of the messages I send to “Contact Us” email addresses go unanswered, and half of the answers I get are automated, telling me they’ll get back to me right away. Of course, that never happens.

If I was in charge of one of these companies, I’d do away with that address and send everyone to a real person with a real name and a normal email address (mine, by the way is ken@fishingtackleretailer.com).

Along the same lines, another black hole with a lot of companies starts with the person answering the phone who has absolutely no idea who works there or what they do. I recently spoke to the receptionist for a pretty big manufacturer and, after introducing myself and explaining that I wanted to give her company some free publicity, asked for someone in the marketing department.

“You have to go through the ‘Contact Us’ feature on our website,” she told me.

“I tried that more than a week ago and got no response,” I said.

“I’m very sorry to hear that.”

“Could you connect me to someone in marketing?” I asked.

“No, you have to go through the website.”

“But that doesn’t work. Who do those messages go to? Maybe I could talk to them.”

“I’m really not sure.”

I asked for customer service. She was it. I asked for Sales. She wouldn’t pass me along because I wasn’t buying anything.

Could I leave a message for the person who could help me … once she figured out who that might be? No, I needed to go through the website.

I was extremely polite and so was she, but we were at an impasse. She asked if there was anything else she could do for me. I asked if she was serious.

But enough of my rant. I didn’t intend this to be merely a slam against those “Contact Us” things.

I want to talk about black holes in your business.

Do you have any? Keep in mind that just because you’re not aware of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They might be all around you. Unlike NASA, which needs bus-sized space telescopes to spot black holes, you can spot the black holes in your business by doing a little self reflection.

When a customer asks for a certain product but you’re out of it, do you call or email him when it’s in stock — maybe even hold some behind the counter for when he comes in?

If not, that’s a black hole.

What’s that? You didn’t get his number or email address in the first place? Another black hole.

Does the ordering process often catch you by surprise so that you don’t realize you’re running low on something until you’re out of it and someone inquires? Black hole.

Not collecting contact info for your customers so they can receive your fishing reports or discount coupons or other newsy items? Black hole.

Not attending the game and fish department meetings about your local fisheries so you can stay apprised of what’s going on and protect the waters that keep you in business? Black hole.

Not staying up to speed on the fishing in your area so you can inform customers and better display your wares? Black hole.

Do you have a Facebook or Twitter account that you haven’t checked today — that’s right, today? Black hole.

And do you have a website with one of those “Contact Us” things that you last checked in the early days of the World Wide Web?

Well, I’ve already covered that.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.