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Common Sense of Correspondence

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Lately, I’ve been a little shocked by people’s email and telephone protocol.  What seems to me as something so simple and straightforward does not seem to be the case for everyone.  I’m going to preface this post by laying down a few assumptions:

  • I believe in setting boundaries.  No one should be answering email and phonecalls late into the night.  I also believe in keeping weekends.  It is OK to not respond to email on Saturday-Sunday.  (Or Sunday-Monday if you work on Saturdays.)
  • There are days that our job requires us to be out of the office: meeting with clients, at site visits, at networking functions.
  • We all get busy and there are days where we are bogged down and can simply not respond to everyone’s inquiry.

Let’s address a few HUMONGOUS CORRESPONDENCE OFFENSES:

Not responding to email in a timely fashion

Email MUST be responded to within 24 hours.  Here are my rules for ensuring his happens:

  • I quickly scan my email for personal and business.  Personal email usually requires a little more time and thought.  My friends, fortunately, do not require a quick response.  Business correspondence does.
  • At the end of my workday, I check my inbox to make sure every single business email has received a reply of some sort.
  • If I do not have an answer or need more time for an email, I simply let the sender know, “I’ll get back to you before the end of the week.”
  • I archive and file all email once responded to.  My inbox has only “open items”.

If you have trouble, organizing your email and keeping everything straight, you may need to set up folders and filters.  See this post on setting up your email inbox.

Like I said, there are days that we have maxed out on our responsibilities as business owners and we must prioritize.  Some times email must play a second fiddle in order to fry the bigger fish.  This is completely understandable.  The problem is when poor correspondence becomes the norm.  Not only are you sacrificing potential business, but also you are sacrificing relationships with colleagues.  You are sacrificing your image and your brand.

Responding to a phonecall with an email

I’m not a big phone person.  I prefer email because I’m very visual.  I need to see something in writing for it to truly set in.  It also creates an easy reference for me to take action in the future.  I know many wedding professionals agree.  Planning a wedding is an intricate web of many little pieces that are nice to “see”.

There are times, though, that a phonecall is necessary.  And, usually a phonecall is made when something is urgent and/or very important.  If I’m calling you, do not email me back. There’s a reason I phoned you.  Just like with email, ensure that you have returned every voicemail at the end of the day.

Now… there is only ONE reason a phonecall should receive an email reply and that would be if you want to set up a better time to talk by phone. There are days that I simply cannot take a phonecall.  I understand this.  Typically, I schedule ALL phonecalls if I can.  If you receive a phonecall that you cannot take and it is NOT urgent, then a quick email asking to schedule a time is appropriate.  Again, make sure the call is not urgent or this defeats the purpose.

Phone = Urgent
Email = Not Urgent

Please respond to phonecalls with phonecalls.

Not setting an “out of office” responder

I am a HUGE fan of the “out of office” auto-responder.  You should be setting this on your email any time that you cannot or will not be responding to email within 24 hours. If you have the slightest doubt that you will be able to respond to email, just set the auto-responder.  This is a great habit to establish.  Here are some examples of when to use this:

  • Out of the office for site visits
  • Away from your desk for client meetings
  • At home with your kids for the day
  • Have family visiting from out of town
  • On vacation or business travel
  • On the weekend (especially if you take an “unconventional” weekend such as Sunday – Monday)
  • You are simply too swamped to respond to email

The last point is VERY important.  If you are slammed with work, you need to let people know.  Otherwise, you look irresponsible.  If you cannot take any more business and don’t plan on responding to inquiries for some time, please let people know: “We are booked through the end of April.  We will be meeting with clients beginning May 1.  If you are interested in setting a time to meet, reply with your May availability.”  If your heavy workload is confined to a short window of time, let people know, “I’m in the throws of invite assembly!  Woohooo!  Please know that I’ll be in touch with you within 72 hours and not a minute more.”

The auto-responder is awesome for giving you breathing space.  It allows you to work on email when you can best respond.  Not only does it curb the expectations of the sender, but also allows you to be present with your other commitments.

How about you?  What are your correspondence pet peeves and what are your solutions?

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March 9, 2010 - 8:35 am

Tiesha Frazier - Such valid advice. So many people disregard the importance of good communication. Timely and appropriate communication builds trust, which is fundamental, especially as a small business owner.

March 9, 2010 - 9:32 am

Sumer Schmitt - I could not agree with you more!! Too often I see poor communication skills by wedding “professionals”, and to be honest, those so-called “professionals” leave a bad taste in my mouth when they are taking days or weeks to respond to a simple email or voice mail. This is definitely a post that all business owners should read…very sound advice. Thank you for taking the time to write what many of us often think in our heads.

March 9, 2010 - 10:40 am

Rachel - THANK YOU for this post. The one that drives me nuts is when I email a vendor for information and they call back to talk about it. I emailed because I don’t have time to sit and chat with every vendor about their pricing, etc. Send me the information I asked for and be done with it. Those who call me instead are less likely to get my business because they cannot respect my time and space. I use email because, as you said- I need the virtual “paper trail” and also because I have a 5 month old business partner who makes talking on the phone difficult. I save the calls for “urgent”.

March 9, 2010 - 10:40 am

kellye - Wondefully said! Can we let Brides no too? I have so many people that I send proposals too and they don’t get back to me for a week! All I need is a ” Hi there, we recv’d your proposal and we’ll get bcak to you soon” not that hard huh?

March 9, 2010 - 12:20 pm

Melinda Massie - Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!! It amazes me how people that don’t respond in a timely manner can stay in business. I have two pet peeves – the one Kellye mentioned about not responding to say you’ve recieved information. My other are the people that call and don’t leave a detailed message with what they need because if I call back and get their voice mail, I can’t answer their question and we’re stuck in a time-wasting game of phone tag.

March 8, 2011 - 7:04 am

Jenn Kemper with Stella & Dot - Michelle, this is great! Largely, I agree. However, after reading “The 4 Hour Work Week” I do my best to “train” people either to use phone or e-mail by responding appropriately in reference to my understanding of urgency, not theirs. Frankly, some people call when all I need is an e-mail or vice-versa. I’ve also started leaving a voicemail to say I appreciated the call and have taken care of the matter, but for whatever reason (length, complication of response, or inclusion of a tracking order, mainly) have responded at length via e-mail, then I advise them to respond how I’d like, either “call me back if there are further questions” or “e-mail me back to confirm our scheduled appointment.” What do you do when clients or colleagues see something at a different urgency level? Real connection is important & I find easier to achieve on the phone & in person, but my time is important, too & e-mail saves it!

March 8, 2011 - 7:54 am

Michelle Loretta - Ahhh… yesssss… clients have a different idea of what is urgent from you. Two thoughts here:

1) Is the client’s expectation realistic with the nature of the purchase? (For example, these days online sales are typically serviced immediately by large online retailers. So this has become the expectation. In order to compete in this market, you will have to consider this in your business. Can you compete if the competitor is responding quicker and more attentively? Think Zappos.)
2) Is this “urgent” client a match for your business? If you are having a hard time “training” the urgency of certain clients, then maybe they aren’t a match for you or your business. If your ideal client values service and connection over urgency, then you will naturally weed out the more impatient people.

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