Turn away from e-mail and pick up the phone.
Lately I’ve found myself starting to draft a lengthy e-mail, and then realizing I ought to just make a quick phone call instead. It may sound silly, but if you’re like me, when times are extremely busy and I am racing from one deadline to the next, a phone call feels like a luxury.
I’ve recently discovered that I’ll go too long before I speak with or visit a client. Sure, the work gets done and clients are happy, but e-mail alone does not deepen a work relationship.
We rely heavily on e-mail to communicate and drive productivity and it’s an incredibly useful tool, but it’s quite impersonal. For those of us who worked in a time before e-mail, you’ll recall that we were on the phone and in meetings for the better part of a day. Strong work relationships were fostered. I think we knew more about each other then and it was those deeper relationships that enabled us to work through challenges more easily.
Then we all abandoned ship and jumped on the e-mail bandwagon in favour of efficiencies and getting things in writing – nothing wrong with that. During busy times, the pendulum swings too far though and too much time passes between in-person meetings or phone calls.
It may sound trite or old fashioned, but I’ve started picking up the phone again. There’s something about connecting with people – hearing their voice and intonation – that’s just refreshing, and surprisingly productivity. While I often hesitate to intrude on a client’s day, they always make time for a call. From the client’s perspective, they get real-time responses to questions or concerns and they can ponder issues aloud and get immediate feedback that they can put in motion right after our call. I’m finding more work actually gets done on most phone calls, my client is happier and I get what I need.
Here’s even more in favour of phoning clients:
- For your busiest clients, set up regular phone call meetings at an interval that is appropriate to the work and your client’s needs.
- Friday afternoons are usually good times to try to spontaneously reach a client
- Avoid using your speakerphone unless absolutely necessary
- Check your Bluetooth for clarity. I have one client who uses his wireless Bluetooth in the office and it’s not clear making phone calls with him uncomfortable
- Always ask, “Have I caught you at a bad time for a quick chat?”
- Make time for a little personal chit chat. A 10-minute (non-billable) chat about a recent event, their family or another personal topic is enjoyable for your client and will deepen your understanding of him/her. Record important dates or details in your client file.
- Feel free to mention you have a meeting at 2:30 p.m., so your client is aware of any time limitations you may have. This way he/she can manage the time remaining as needed.
- Keep in mind, clients often still need information in writing, so when necessary, do follow-up with a quick e-mail touching on the highlights or decisions from your phone call.
And then, there’s Skype — the next best thing to meeting in person. My out of town clients depend on it, and even my local clients enjoy using it. They hold documents up to the camera and point out things, show me competitors’ advertisements, comment on my office and more. My own team meet via Skype when necessary and we love it.
When in doubt, pick up the phone. Your client will be glad you did.