71

I'll typically have meetings with customers in which they set it up and invite me and other co-workers. Sometimes I will show up to this meeting and my co-worker(s) won't because they forgot, became busy, didn't see the invite, or any number of other excuses. This occasionally happens when I'm really just supposed to a "silent participant", meaning my co-worker(s) has the information the customer needs and I'm supposed to be in a supportive role.

When the meeting comes or even 5 minutes past, I'm sitting on the phone with the customer and my co-worker(s) are no where to be found. A lot of time these co-workers are at our other locations which makes it more difficult to know where they are. I could call them, but I only have one desk phone, which means hanging up with the customer. Should I just admit to the customer I have no idea why my co-workers aren't here? I'm concerned that it's reflecting badly on the company.

  • 101
    Did you ask your boss how to handle this? – nvoigt Nov 14 at 14:56
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    @nvoigt Well I'm wondering if I should take this to my boss because I don't want anyone getting in trouble – Daniel Nov 14 at 15:00
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    In this day and age you don't have a cellphone? Your company phone doesn't allow you to put the other party on hold while you make a second call? – Barmar Nov 15 at 15:48
  • @Barmar : The question may not include "how do I also protect myself", but is it not reasonable or even polite to assume people want their actions to stay them out of trouble? – mathreadler Nov 15 at 17:10
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    @david what about you getting in trouble? What about your boss looking bad, or you company losing a client because of this? Then when someone starts looking into and sees that you were aware of the problem for MONTHS and didn't do anything, you would likely get fired. I wouldn't put someone else ahead of my job, my boss, or my company. – Issel Nov 15 at 18:55
97

Talk to your boss before the next meeting and ask what you should do in the case that your coworker cannot make it to the meeting for whatever reason. There is no need to mention that your coworker is frequently missing meetings. Follow the boss's instructions if the situation happens again.

Normally I would simply tell the customer that it looks like X won't be able to make it and end the meeting, letting them know it will be re-scheduled. Of course apologize on behalf of the company. But you should ultimately do what your boss asks of you.

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    I'd at least try contacting the coworker before fully rescheduling, a "I'll call you back in 10 minutes" is a lot better than a "well hopefully speak to you next week" – Borgh Nov 14 at 15:34
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    This is not one coworker showing the behavior. Does that change the answer? (There is no need to mention that your coworker is frequently missing meetingsIt needs to be brought up that people frequently miss meetings) – Mars Nov 15 at 0:55
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    Yes, it should definitely be noted that this is a common occurrence. Why you would not mention that is beyond me... – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 15 at 1:33
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    "Hey boss, this has become an awkward situation for me since it's happened so many times. How should I handle it when a co-worker doesn't dial in to a customer meeting?" <-- Then let the boss ask you for all the details on who and how frequently. You're asking how to handle the situation, not running to the boss to "tattle", but it will end up covering both situations. – FreeMan Nov 15 at 15:14
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    "There is no need to mention that your coworker is frequently missing meetings" fully disagree., If they are not needed in the meeting, then they should not be invited to the meeting. Otherwise, they are causing potential loss when they do not show up, which should definitely be brought up. Firstly directly, and if the behavior does not change, to their manager! – Jorge Leitao Nov 17 at 6:42
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This is why I always reach out to the meeting lead before joining a call.

If you're the lead obviously get on the call, maybe send a quick email/slack to whoever else you need on the call as a reminder, but if not just make sure the lead is ready to start the call before going on.

You mentioned they might not have seen the meeting request:Did you double check with them that they are available before accepting the meeting? This may be something you want to consider for next time!

At the end of the day though, if it is their project/client etc. it's not your job. Apologise to the client saying you'll follow up with them and arrange a new meeting, but if it continues to happen, absolutely take it to your boss.

  • In MS Outlook (and I'd imagine most other calendaring software), you can look to see who's accepted/declined the meeting, even if you're not the one who scheduled it. That way you'll at least know that co-worker acknowledged the meeting. – FreeMan Nov 15 at 15:15
22

If your co-worker is leading the meeting, then let them initiate the call to the customer and you.

That way you are not on the phone looking poor.

If the call is not initiated, then you contact the co-worker to find out why and suggest they should contact the customer.

If this happens more than once then you should give the details to your manager.

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    In many conference call systems you dial into the meeting independently, especially if you're in multiple locations. So you may not find out about it until you and a customer are both left hanging. – James Snell Nov 15 at 10:57
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    @JamesSnell so phone the leader 5 minutes prior to make sure he/she is awake, on the ball and ready to go or you find out they are not ready... – Solar Mike Nov 15 at 11:38
  • Absolutely agree - I personally think it's extremely unprofessional to go into meetings "blind" anyway, even as someone who may not be called upon to contribute. I'd usually expect a pre-call with my colleagues to know who we can expect and why we're there... but my comment was regarding the assumption in your answer that the co-worker can dial people into the meeting. – James Snell Nov 15 at 11:49
  • @JamesSnell So in many systems you can use the "main" or "primary" phone to call all the people who need to be on the conference call - perhaps it is just what any "one" person is used to and the systems in place. The logic and politeness is something else... – Solar Mike Nov 15 at 12:30
  • @JamesSnell The conference systems we've used all had two numbers, one for "organizer" and one for "participant"...usually the call doesn't start until someone calls in with the organizer number. You would have to re-write the meeting invites, though, so that externals only get the participant number, otherwise they will definitely try the organizer number just in case it works. – user3067860 Nov 15 at 14:35
10

I'll give two pieces of advice:

  • Since you're to be the "silent participant", do you really need to be attending the meeting? Mostly, a email follow up (CC-ed to you) would suffice. In that case, you don't need to be in the meeting, let the primary participant answer for themselves for the "no-show".

  • If you're one of the expected participants, and you need your co-worker to be present, make sure you have their availability prior to the meeting. In case they are not available, you should know that beforehand, that should not come to you as a surprise (after joining the meeting). Based on the information, you can either cancel or (request to) reschedule the meeting based on everyone's availability.

In case, you feel the primary participant(s) is/are careless about the meetings, let them handle it on their own. Unless you are in the managerial role, no need to intervene and provide excuse to save their face to the customer on a regular basis.

Even after the above actions, if this behavior continues and client is dissatisfied, you need to loop in your superior / reporting manager about your co-worker's behavior. Let them do their job, manage the employees and the situation.

  • The moral of this answer is don’t go to meetings alone? – Donald Nov 15 at 6:33
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    @Donald Yes, unless you are the primary attendee, and have no dependency on any other attendees. Otherwise, there's no point in having the meeting in first place. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 15 at 6:37
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The other answers are much more optimal, but here is a technical fix until you resolve things internally:

If you are using a company phone or smartphone, it's very likely that you can place the call on hold.

It's not very professional to place a client on hold (for the reason of finding your coworkers),
but it's certainly much better than doing nothing.

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    Agreed - hard to believe the OP just sits there for five minutes with a customer with no earthly idea where their own colleagues are and no attempt to remedy! – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 15 at 1:37
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    I have gotten burned by expecting a co-worker to be a fully responsible adult. Others expected me, junior to him, to push him. I still don't have a good rule of thumb for when to give up and step in. – donjuedo Nov 16 at 1:59
6

Here's your checklist for when this happens.

  1. Call, Skype, IM, or otherwise attempt to get ahold of the missing associate. If there is no answer, or he shows up as away, contact his manager and see if they can reach him via some alternative number. If you only have one desk phone, you can use your personal cell phone, or ask someone at the desk next to you to see if they can reach him.

  2. If the meeting can potentially proceed without him, do your best to cover for him; take copious notes; do not commit to anything. If the purpose of the meeting was Q&A, write down your customer's questions and forward them to your associate (and CC his manager) afterward.

  3. If the meeting cannot proceed without him, end the call promptly (wait no more than 5-10 minutes tops) and reschedule. People do not like having their time wasted. Take notes on any pressing issues that are raised, apologize, and conclude the meeting. Avoid a drawn out discussion that you cannot support as it is a waste of time for everyone.

4

If you are invited to the meeting, then you should be professional and not be silent if you are the sole representative of your company. If your colleagues are not being professional, that will reflect poorly on them in the long run. Focus on how you can make the company (and you) look good and professional.

That said, when I am in this situation I will entertain the customer. You should do the same if you are comfortable with that approach.

Do not focus on the negative side of the situation. If you make bad comments about your colleagues, you look bad. If the customer leaves the call feeling abandoned, your company looks bad. If you don't say much until you offer to reschedule, you look bad. If your customer only remembers negative things, your company looks bad.

But if you engage the customer - mention that while you are waiting for your colleague(s), you can talk about "stuff" to pass the time, it reduces their focus on your colleague(s) absence. Ask how their day is going. Inquire if they have other concerns that are not within the focus of the meeting, take notes and pass them along to those in your company that can help. Ask how the weather is where they are. Ask if they like sports or cooking. Ask them if they know any good jokes!

This probably is not first time a meeting didn't go as planned for your customer. It won't be the last time. But engaging them and making a good impression on them not only helps your business look good, it helps you look good to your business. The customer will remember you, or else they will forget the problem with the meeting more easily. Every time you are engaged with a customer, it is an opportunity to sell them on your company. It is best not to waste that opportunity when you are given it, if you are able to take advantage of it.

I learned this from a similar situation I had early in my professional life. I was technical sales support and I showed up to a meeting with a customer where they had 20 representatives in the meeting, and my sales person was "running late." The room was small and hot, and I engaged in small talk to entertain them until we waited... to my astonishment, he walked in and after a 5 minute "introduction" to our company and without any warning to me, he said, "I bet you have a lot of technical questions, so I will leave you with our technical sales guy." And he walked out of the room! He didn't return for 45 minutes. So what did I do? I told them I was sales support, not sales. I simply said, "if you have any questions, ask me and I'll do my best." I got pounded with questions for the full 45 minutes. I didn't have all the answers but I wrote the ones down that I didn't know and promised to find the answers. When the sales person finally returned, they kicked him out so they could continue to ask me questions. I was exhausted and annoyed, but I acted professionally. After I returned and the customer gushed about my performance, I got a raise and a promotion. That was an extreme situation, and I learned from it how to handle calls where I was "support" and the "main event" didn't even show up.

As a note of caution, if you sense the customer is not responding well to your "entertainment" or you feel the awkwardness of your colleagues absence is growing, then try to gracefully suggest that you reschedule out of respect for their time. Keep the focus on their needs and desires. You are being respectful toward them for an unfortunate situation out of your control - that genuine concern and respect will, without doubt, make you and your company look good.

Other answers include talking to you boss about the problem - that is advisable, but your question is about how to handle the call, not how to deal with your colleagues unprofessional behavior. To me, "how to handle unprofessional colleagues" is a different question.

Don't waste time on what "could have been" or "should have been" - make the best of the time you have. And try to have fun along the way! Good luck!

-1

The problem is your setup. Given that the flakiness of your coworkers is now established, insist on this.

Have this meeting in a physical conference room

When you get one of these on your calendar, reserve a conference room with a phone and tell all employees the room. Go to the physical conference room at the appointed time.

Wait until you have a critical mass of people before connecting the call. This should be done by one of the primary customer contacts, not you if you are barely involved.

If the customer calls your desk, not your problem; you're in the conference room.

  • 3
    I agree that having the meeting in a physical conference room is a good idea if possible (people may not be in the same building or even the same country), but I'm not sure how it solves this problem entirely: the co-workers can simply fail to show up to the conference room and then you're in the same boat. The meeting organizer could build in a buffer though, having everyone come to the conference room 15 minutes before the actual call. I also would not wait long to connect the call even if participants are missing, as the customer will likely think that you've all forgotten about them. – Zach Lipton Nov 15 at 20:39

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