About 12 years ago, I was having a discussion with a colleague from Toronto on the subject of message overload. We both managed a sales force in our respective parts of the country. Both of us were receiving in excess of 60 e-mails and 25 phone calls a day. I asked him how he handled the load. His answer threw me for a loop and I had to exercise a great deal of restraint in my reaction and response. What did he say you wonder?
“I only reply to messages from management”.
This strategy is, shall we say, flawed in the extreme! Our incoming e-mails and calls came from three sources; clients, staff and management. To answer only to management means to walk away from the client who is our primary reason for being there in the first place. Not to respond to our staff is to walk away from our responsibilities as a manager. Neither is excusable! In a microsecond, it became abundantly clear to me why so many of my e-mails to him had gone unanswered.
Remember these words; perception is reality!
If I e-mail your business and you don’t reply, my perception as a customer will be that you don’t care and that I’m not really that important to you. If a second e-mail goes unanswered, I will likely find someone else with whom to do business. As a manager, my perception of staff that are non-responsive would include words like un-professional and/or incompetent.
You might be guessing that this is a pet peeve of mine. If so, you are absolutely correct. Call me old-fashioned if you want, but to me, there is no excuse for unresponsiveness. I also consider it very rude.
“But Gil, I am really swamped and can’t possibly reply to that many e-mails!”
Really? How hard is it to write this?
Thanks so much for your note. I am pressed for time right now but wanted you to know that I have received your e-mail and I will get back to you within 24 hours.
Or you could delegate like so:
Thanks so much for your note. I am pressed for time right now but I have copied Janet on your e-mail and she will get back to you soon.
Janet is very capable and she is empowered to act on my behalf.
Her direct line is 1-555-555-5555.
I hope all is well for you. I will look forward to catching up with you soon.
You can have verbiage like this ready to copy and paste and within one or two minutes have a reply done and sent. Now your customer won’t ‘perceive’ that you don’t care. It’s not that complicated really. It’s called working smart!
Here are a few more ideas that can help you with responsiveness.
- When you are away from your office for an extended period, PLEASE use your e-mail auto-reply feature. Include contact information for someone that can reply immediately in case the need is urgent.
- Change the message on your phone when you will be away and as with your e-mail, include contact information for someone that can reply immediately if necessary.
- If you have staff sending you too many long e-mails, coach them to be brief and succinct. I have done this with all my staff in the past and it has saved me countless hours of reading. If you need more detail, you can always ask them for it.
- Also with staff, if everything is coming to you, perhaps you need to learn how to delegate more effectively.
- Be professional in all of your outbound communications. How you respond, or your style of response is very important and I will cover that more thoroughly in a separate article soon. For now, remember to start your e-mails with a “greeting” and end them with a “cheers” or “best regards” or “sincerely”. E-mails are NOT instant messages! They are a reflection of your professionalism or lack thereof.
This last point is critical. Be sure you understand it!
- If the reason you are not replying to someone is because you are not interested in pursuing the business, politely let them know so that they can move forward by engaging someone who is interested. Your customers or associates will appreciate your candor. They may be disappointed, but they won’t be angry. Business initiatives are all about motion and momentum. When you are unresponsive, you stall or stop that momentum. A loss of momentum can crush an initiative and the lost opportunity costs can be substantial. This will not put you in a good light. Never forget that bad news travels much faster than good news and you want people saying good things about you.
Being responsive will set you apart from many of your competitors. It is a key differentiator for you and for the company you represent. Taking the time to work out a strategy that ensures your responsiveness is time well spent.
Woman at keyboard from MS Word Clip Art Collection
Feature Picture MS Word Clip Art Collection
Originally posted August 15, 2009 at synaptici