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ImageHow quickly do you respond to e-mail or voice mail messages?  I am continually surprised by how slow some businesspeople are to respond. Even more surprising is when the e-mail or voice mail represents potential business they still can’t seem to quicken their response rate.  As a general rule, I try to respond to any communication within 2 hours, regardless of who contacted me or what they want.  Originally, when I was debating with myself (and again I won) what an appropriate response time should be, I based it on the idea that the longest anyone could really stand to be in my company is probably 2 hours.  So 2 hours represents the longest period of time I would be unreachable.  After that, you should expect a return call or e-mail.

Anyone who thinks I am worthy enough to help them should feel as though they are the most important person I will deal with today.  If they took the time to write, or dial the phone they deserve to be acknowledged at my earliest convenience.  I even return phone calls from people who are trying selling me something, and from whom I have no intention of buying their product or service.  I consider this a professional courtesy.  I don’t want them spending time thinking about me as a prospect. I want to free up their thought process, effort, and energy to pursue a real opportunity and chase a real lead. Of course, I would want anyone else to do the same for me.

Unfortunately in today’s environment of impersonal business, too many people hide behind the phone or computer, hoping to avoid any unpleasant conversation, or worse, think they don’t have the time.  If you don’t have the 2 minutes to return a call or send a simple note maybe the problem is not with your decency but your time management. Either way this behavior is inexcusable.

Say I’ll get back to you.  If I send you an e-mail and ask a question and you don’t have an immediate answer, don’t wait 4 days because you are “not in the office”, and then the weekend passes and then you are “out sick.”  Send me a quick note, tell me you need to find the answer and let me know when I can expect it.  If it’s next Tuesday, fine.  But if I spend 4 days wondering if you have been sucked into a black hole or you just don’t care about me, you are not helping our relationship any.  After 4 days, don’t bother – because chances are we are not working together.

Use other people.  The only time the 2 hour rule does not apply is, let’s say, when you might be traveling to China on an airplane to check out a new manufacturer.  You get the idea.  Have someone else check your voice mail every two hours and call everyone back.  Have them apologize for your unavailability, explain you are traveling and will get back to them when  you land.  Be specific and give them a day and time.  It is not acceptable to leave a reason for your unavailability in an outgoing voice mail message. Have your assistant, colleague, mother, whomever, check your e-mail and send a personal message with the same explanation.  Remember, everyone wants to feel they are your most important customer.

Never use an out of office auto reply.  Even If I am out of the office my customers or clients don’t care.  They are sending an e-mail for a reason.  They have a problem, issue, opportunity and they don’t care where I am.  They just want help and advice.  They want to know that wherever I am, I am there for them.

Never be on vacation.  Does the fact that I will answer my phone while relaxing on the beach with my wife anger her?  No doubt.  However, if it means winning or keeping a client, I might have just paid for the vacation.  Every one of your customers or clients wants to think they are special, so make them feel that way.  Let them know you are always there for them and they matter to you. Call them back right away.

Never be in a meeting.  These gatherings of resources hold the perception of being a bureaucratic waste of time.  No work actually gets done in meetings, it’s just talked to death.  Be seen as someone who is getting something accomplished.  Be “helping another client” or “growing a business” or “improving a business process.” Meetings are not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.

If you do anything, err on the side of over communication.  If you do a second anything, make someone feel special today.

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