“The most powerful, the most successful, the most satisfying accomplishments in both your life and your business result from the relationships you form with the people in your world.”
—The Ripple Effect by Steve Harper
Many people who write productivity blogs focus on tasks to the exclusion of relationships. They’ll come up with a list of productivity tips, and frequently one of the tips is some variation of Don’t reply to your e-mails or Ignore your telephone. One columnist actually wrote, If it’s really important, they’ll call back.
We willl pause here to let me clarify that I do not think every phone call, e-mail, or IM deserves an immediate answer. If I am working on deadline or an important task, I will not answer the phone or respond to e-mails, but I let people know right up front by using my outgoing voice-mail message or my e-mail out of office message why I am incommunicado. I also make sure there is a way for people to get in touch with me if it is truly important.
How does this impact customer service, you ask? A business has both external and internal customers. If an organization fails to create clear expectations of what constitutes a timely response then it risks having customer service problems. People who do not return phone calls or e-mails in that timely fashion risk damaging relationships with co-workers and customers. They also risk hampering the forward progress toward accomplishing the business goals of the organization. This is especially true when someone cannot move forward on their own project because a fellow employee thinks his task is more important than that of others.
Jill, a sales person is making a presentation to a potential client in Louisville. The client asks a question for which she is unprepared. Being a professional she explains she does not know the answer, but she can call someone at her home office in Atlanta to find out. So she calls Ted, who is the code warrior or the guy who invented the widget, or the maven who knows all, but Ted, productivity guru that he is, has decided that he needs to focus on a task so he is not reading his e-mails nor is he answering either of his phones.
How will this failure to communicate affect the relationship between Jill and Ted? What if the sale was lost because Ted failed to respond? What does that say about the importance of his task compared to the organization’s business goal?
Here is what I want to know. What if Jill gets promoted to be Ted’s boss? How willing will she be to help Ted when he wants a promotion, or when a reduction in force is coming?
Ask yourself if you’ve heard these two statements before:
Oh Terri never returns phone calls or e-mails?
Ask Susan. You can count on her. She always gets back to you promptly.
Which one is more likely to get promoted? Which one is going to get the better assignments?
Yes, it is important to be focused on tasks. But it’s also important to be focused on people such as customers, your co-workers, and vendors. Even in a manufacturing business or IT department where tasks take precedence, relationships with people is the oil that keeps the task engine running. Lose enough oil—lose the engine.
For maximum customer service, both internal and external, an organization should set clear expectations on what the response time is for telephone calls and e-mails. All e-mail systems have out of the office messaging capability and rare is the business that doesn’t have voicemail. What is your organization’s preferred method of contact in an emergency such as the sales situation above?