Is Radio Silence Endangering Your Business?

7/31/14

Let’s see if this scenario sounds all-too-familiar. A divisional company director is facing a distressed situation. Her CEO suggests bringing in an outside consultant to help. They meet, and the director decides to hire the consultant and immediately confirms a follow-up meeting on both of their calendars.

Except that this second meeting never takes place. Instead, the consultant is asked to wait until the following week so that the director and her staff can complete some research. After that, the consultant hears nothing. There is no response from the divisional director to e-mails or voicemail messages. Complete Radio Silence.

Radio Silence is a colloquial way to describe the absence of any type of response to an in-person or online contact. Unfortunately, it’s emerging as an accepted business practice that is spreading rapidly throughout the corporate world—and hurting brand image.

Here are several possible explanations as to why it’s becoming more widespread:

• It’s a smart business strategy. There is greater supply than demand, so if the service isn’t needed, no need to waste any energy responding.
• Ease of technology. It takes little effort to request and gather proposals online for information, prices, and schedules. With no commitment in the outreach effort, there is no commitment to reply.
• The “we need it now” syndrome. Maybe you were scrambling to bring someone in because of pressure from above and then the priorities of your company changed. With the urgency ended, so does any need for further communications.
• Just don’t say “no.” You avoid delivering bad news as often as possible.

Whatever the reasons, they all point to a belief that there are no repercussions for not responding. This “no consequences” corporate culture, in turn, instills in employees a sense that they can ignore outsiders because no one in the company really will care.

But in today’s business world, experience defines the brand. When a company treats someone poorly—whether that’s a customer or a vendor—people share their experiences quickly, often virally. Word gets around, and it’s often magnified by social media. Impressions of a company, and those of its employees, get formed quickly. Negative buzz becomes more difficult to counteract.

This can undermine the reputation and brand identity of a company. Further downstream, this brand erosion can hinder a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent. It also may hurt current business relationships with clients and vendors, especially when the dynamics of supply and demand change, as they inevitably will.

Measuring how Radio Silence undermines a company brand isn’t easy, but it does create an unnecessary business risk that could be difficult to unwind later on. The issue needs to be addressed by senior management so that everyone—from the CEO to the entry-level employee—knows how to respond once he or she has initiated contact with a potential client, hire, or vendor.

Here are three immediate ways to help develop a policy to combat the negative impact of Radio Silence:

• Establish a “respond after initiating contact” policy. Create a company-wide policy that helps guide employees on how to respond and explains why it supports brand image and relationships over time.
• Set an example. As a company leader, make sure you always achieve closure when dealing with vendors, suppliers, and outside consultants. This could a simple e-mail that says, “We’ve put the project on hold and will get back when the situation changes.” Even a “thanks, but sorry, it didn’t happen” is better than no response at all.
• Track and distribute feedback. Let others in the company see third-party responses to surveys and feedback that addresses how well the company responds.

Your competitors may continue to ignore Radio Silence’s impact. By doing the opposite, you’ll increase the odds of people tuning into your brand and your business.

Stuart N. Brotman is a Boston-area based global management consultant. Follow @

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