The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. It’s a scary state of mind where you really don’t care. For me, football leaves me cold, I don’t dislike it, I just have no feelings about it whatsoever. When it comes to your business, this state of mind is one you hope to never face. Whether it’s your customers who are disengaged or disengaging, or worse still, your own team, falling out of love with your products and services raises a red flag. Here’s 4 telltale signs that mean you need to react immediately – and how you might turn around the situation to address the disengagement.
1. Lack of response: the most obvious sign that someone is disengaging is when they don’t respond to you. For your team, this might be being late to meetings or not turning up at all. With customers, it might be ignoring your calls and emails. It could be that they are just not interested in the reason you reached out to them, but when a pattern emerges of regularly not responding, this is a sure sign you need to act. Being able to deal with this personally, and even better face to face, to ask an honest and open question can often get you a response. You may not like what you hear, but at least you know what you need to do to fix the situation. Armed with their response, you can decide what to do next.
2. Erratic behaviour: As I’ve said many, many time, human beings are no different to any other animal – we like routine, we feel reassured by predictability and so businesses can build models around team and customer behaviour. When you team starts arriving later to the office, leaving earlier or disappearing for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, this suggests they are focusing on another activity – job hunting, personal matters or other difficulties. It may not be appropriate to ask outright, but offering flexibility and checking in that they are OK might elicit an answer as to why they are behaving in a certain way. Customer erratic behaviour is a little more difficult. If a loyal customer suddenly advises that they are going out to tender, it may not be their own decision – company policy or a new boss may be driving the action. Likewise, changes in frequency of use of your product may indicate a problem, such as they are replacing part of your functionality with a competitor. But it may also be related to fluctuations in their need. Getting a better understanding on your customer’s current position is the best way to get to the bottom of erratic behaviour. Make time for the customer or colleague to share with you.
3. No opinion: Some people (I count myself in this category) are very opinionated, others tend to hold firm opinions on certain topics, but not on others. We notice the subtle shift when people suddenly seem disinterested – a colleague says, “I don’t mind” or “you decide” when you know that they would usually share their views. Customers not sharing their views on your latest product or release, especially when they used to be a fan, or too many surveys returned with no comments all suggests signs of disengaging. Finding a different way to elicit their opinion, making it easier, helping them understand that their views really DO count is very important. If they see that they have had or can have impact, you’re much more likely to win them over again.
4. Delaying decisions: Life is full of decisions – some easy, some hard. Hard decisions will often get deferred – when to purchase a new car, what life insurance cover to take out. But when you see your team avoiding too many decisions, the business impact can be very painful. Projects stall, deadlines slide and critical tasks get overlooked. Customer may postpone increasing their order or push back a renewal date. It should be a clear sign that by not making a decision, they are slipping away. Whether with colleagues or customers, it’s really important to get to the bottom of the reason to delay making a decision. Are they afraid of the consequences? Do they need more time & information to make the decision? Or have they become ambivalent and no longer care about the outcome? Accept that they may be in a negative place and consider the factors that are blocking their decision. Provide more support, give reassurance and help them better understand the benefits. Getting to the root cause of the delay is the fastest way to achieve a decision.
In all four cases, the signs of disengagement are addressed through better communication – not just asking, but listening. It’s a fraught time when we might feel inclined to react too quickly, making rash decisions to force the situation back to the former position. But when you see signs of disengagement, bear in mind that the emotional shift in behaviour needs to be understood, not just from an objective view point, but from a subjective viewpoint, too. Time may be of the essence, but a well considered decision based on a better understanding of how the disengagement came about is more likely to allow you to achieve your goal. So when you see signs of disengagement, act quickly and communicate, but make sure you understand why things changed before you take action.