Can we all just relax a bit?
Last week, in the midst of a hard disk meltdown, I received an email from a travel agent requesting information on using TRO’s 60 Second Geography series on the agent’s web site. Because of the momentary crisis presented by some 390 gigabytes of data that went missing, I did not notice the incoming email until a second one arrived demanding to know why I ignored the first. Checking the time on both, I noted that only two hours had passed since the first request.
Let me state for the record that I pride myself on promptness. I live at my computer with my email on and I try to respond as quickly as possible to all inquiries. Particularly those from travel agents and suppliers. But, on some occasions, things slip through the cracks. I’m not really detail oriented and I sometimes have to be reminded a second time by correspondants to respond to an email.
I apologize. But 2 hours?
When did every facet of life become so urgent? Email is practically instantaneous. People are not. Yet, clients and agents alike become anxious when emails are not answered immediately, when decisions take longer than 24 hours or when calls are not returned promptly.
And not entirely without reason
At the risk of our collective sanity, we have surely begun to incorporate internet speed paradigms in our business life. Clients expect answers NOW. Yet, I suggest to you that you are far better off to take control of the pacing of your client relationships from the outset.
Firstly, you cannot possibly do a premium research effort instantaneously. Research takes time, effort and study. Confirmations must be obtained, information checked and verified. While instant gratification might be a highly desired commodity, it is seldom the friend of quality. Secondly, relationships require time. Transactions might happen at the speed of electrons, but relationships are built over time. The hurried, quick answer might just be a relationship’s undoing. We inherently understand that time is money. If you put time into your research, and it shows, clients will value the effort more.
This is not a suggestion that you ignore your clients or that you intentionally delay your responses. I am suggesting, however, that you should set expectations with clients from the outset with regard to your pacing of work product. You must accommodate clients’ reasonable needs and expectations. They deserve your prompt attention and time. However, you have a lot to do with setting their expectations from the outset. Here are a few tips to keep you out from under the tyranny of NOW.
- At the beginning of every client encounter, set expectations. Explain how you work, why research takes time and when you will present your deliverables.
- Tell clients exactly when you will be back in touch. Not “soon” but “3:00 p.m. on Wednesday.” Then, make sure to call back as promised.
- Remind clients that email is not always a reliable form of communication. Spam filters, bad addresses and bounces can keep a message from arriving at its destination. Set up a “safety valve”. Tell the clients that if they need something but have not received a quick response from you to assume good will and call.
- Give clients reasonable time frames in which to respond to you as well. Keep the ball in your court, however, by letting them know that you will call them by a time certain if you have not heard from them first.
Here’s an interesting fact: During the recession, Americans worked 10% fewer total hours due to layoffs and shorter workdays. However during the same time period, American workers produced the same amount of goods and services as in full employment 2007. How? Those who were working, worked harder. Certainly increased use of the internet has allowed all of us to be more productive, to work well beyond the “official” workday at home. We are sleeping less and working more.
Here’s the good news. Your clients are overworked and they badly need a vacation.
Here’s the bad news: you are probably overworked as well. Can this trend really be good for anyone?
Take control of the demands of NOW. Set expectations and take control of the pacing of your client relationships. Your clients will appreciate the certainty. You will appreciate the sanity.
And, you will live longer to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
PS. For the record, I am not really as prompt as I might have suggested above. Know that my clients, both agents and suppliers are very important to me. If I don’t respond promptly to an inquiry, please never hesitate to call or email me a second time. By the way, travel agents may use 60 Second Geography articles on their own web sites for free by following this licensing agreement.