November 10, 2016
When I heard these words, I actually felt my stomach knot up and I was immediately filled with regret over this missed opportunity:
We left a message for you a few days ago but when you didn’t return our call, we figured you either weren’t available or weren’t interested. We needed to make a decision quickly so we hired another speaker.
I had no one to blame but myself. Using the excuse of being “too busy,” I had procrastinated on returning that call, assuming that the business would still be there when I got around to responding. That was 20 years ago.
I only needed to hear those words once to learn my lesson. I immediately made a commitment to respond to calls the same day they come in. Even if I end up leaving a message on the caller’s voice mail, at least that individual knows I care enough to return his or her call.
Returning phone calls used to be a common courtesy. Now, busy people claim they don’t have the time. I don’t buy that excuse. I’ve found that the most successful, busy people I know are the ones I can rely on to return my call the same day. It’s a matter of setting priorities.
If your goal is to attract new business or build strong customer relationships, not returning messages or hiding behind closed doors won’t win you much success. But, for those times when you’re not available, you can employ some reliable methods for managing your calls.
Like me, you probably depend on voicemail to manage your messages. Plan to retrieve and respond to calls on a regular basis. If callers know they can count on you to routinely check in, they will be more comfortable communicating with you in this way. Set aside a specific time of day to return your calls. This will prevent them from snowballing.
Since I’m frequently out of my office presenting workshops, I return all calls that came in during the morning, right before lunch. Then, I return all afternoon calls near the end of the day, preferably before 5 p.m. These two times seem to be great for catching people at their desk, thus preventing endless rounds of phone tag.
It takes far less time to return a phone call than it does to respond to an email message. I can speak much faster than I type. A call is also more personal and lets people know that you value them enough to want to have a conversation with them. Cell phones have made it easy to return calls, even when you’re away from your desk.
If you must leave a message, include detailed information. Give the date and time of your call. Answer any questions that the caller asked in his or her original message to you. Let the person know the best time to reach you the next day. Do not leave a laundry list of your entire schedule. It wastes time and will only serve to annoy the person you’re calling. If you’re concerned about phone tag, invite the other person to call back and let you know the most convenient time to reach him or her. They will usually give you a broad enough time frame to make it easy for you to reach them.
You will find that by making it easier for people to connect with you, you will strengthen both customer and co-worker relationships. You will also earn a reputation of professionalism and reliability that will translate into success.
Just recently, I heard these words when I returned a call from a prospective client:
We called four speakers to inquire about their services for our spring convention. You were the only one who called back the same day. You’re hired!