When it comes to communication, most businesses professionals have three main groups they must stay connected to. Current customers, prospective customers, and Co-workers (to include your boss and subordinates) will all be a part of your communication strategy. From the beginning of each relationship, you must set the expectations and be consistent with your follow up or response to emails, deadlines, etc. Failure to do so will result in inconsistent communication; this manifests itself in several ways:
• Employers will question your ability and professionalism
• Customers will question your commitment to their needs
• Employees will question their importance to you and to the organization
• Prospects will question your value
Let’s start with your employer, since that is usually the most important communication in a given day. In the excitement of having a new position, many managers feel compelled to respond immediately to each and every email they receive, whether it is during a workday or at 7 PM on a Sunday evening. While quick responses are important during the workweek, recognize that responding immediately to an email during your off day sets a precedent – that Sunday 7 PM response has now contributed to your employer’s expectations of you. The next one you fail to answer, whether it’s on a Sunday or even on vacation, can look like you’re suddenly “slacking”.
Current customers will often expect an immediate reply, but if you begin the relationship with the caveat “I answer most every email within 24 hours”, you will buy yourself some time. Each customer may have different demands and you will have to keep track of these promises, or the exceptions to the rule. A good approach is to ask them if a particular day or time will work for them, and then be sure to do exactly as promised.
Employees are never shy of bombarding us with emails, and of course it is our desire to answer immediately if they are seeking help; however, you can create a good deal of stress by not being consistent. A staff member who is used to you responding within 3 hours and suddenly has to wait a full day or more can easily take that as a sign that they are not as valued as they were in the beginning, or worse – think they are “in trouble”. This is terrible for morale, even in the short term, and can easily be avoided by setting some rules for yourself and sticking to them.
Lastly, our prospects are the most varied group of all – and the toughest to set a “response rule” for. A more nuanced approach is necessary right from the outset, as you do not want to appear desperate or give the impression that you have no other customers to attend to. Additionally, you must live up to your promises and be quick enough with answers to secure the account. We have found the best way to stay out of trouble is to simply ask the prospect what day and time is best to get back to them, and immediately put this into your CRM as a task and an event. I personally prefer to tell them when to expect my next communication – “Mr. Smith, thank you for allowing me to submit my proposal, I’ll follow up with you on Tuesday, and please don’t hesitate to reach out earlier if you have any questions.”
There is no perfect communication strategy, but setting expectations and being consistent is the key to avoiding the pitfalls enumerated above. Your customers will welcome your follow up, your employer will appreciate your professionalism, and prospects and employees will feel valued.