There’s actually a person on the other side

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You can’t do it all from the box

It’s incredible that you can now do business with anyone on the globe.  It opens up amazing possibilities for all of us.

It also creates some new challenges.

We launched a very complex and challenging project with a new vendor recently.  It was complicated by the fact that it’s outside our area of expertise — but we still needed to drive it from a project management and brand perspective.

What we needed was very specialized and there aren’t too many proven choices out there.  So we selected a vendor who clearly had the skills we needed.  We contracted with them and the work began.  Then, this sequence of events happened.

  1. They sent us an e-mail, outlining what they needed from us.
  2. I sent an e-mail back, admitting that I was nervous about the project due to our lack of knowledge — and could we please talk it through on the phone.
  3. They wrote back and said they preferred to do everything via e-mail so there was a record and no details would be missed.
  4. I said… I was all for capturing the details but I have some overarching questions and want to give them a better sense of what we’re trying to do, big picture.
  5. They wrote back — great, e-mail us your questions and tell us about the big picture.
  6. I did this to the best of my ability — which I believe wasn’t all that hot.  I just didn’t know enough.
  7. They asked us how we wanted to handle a technical issue.  I said…I have no idea.  We need your recommendation.
  8. They gave us a recommendation and we took it.
  9. 2 weeks later — it turns out their recommendation was wrong.  Had we talked on the phone and explored the project together — they would have made a different recommendation.
  10. We have to make a change, based on a new recommendation.
  11. Oops…turns out their 2nd recommendation was also not quite right, because they didn’t know enough about what we were trying to do — and I didn’t know enough to tell them what they really needed to know.
  12. 3rd recommendation is fine.  Project is complete.  But…they had to do a lot of extra work and take a lot of extra time that they could have saved — if we’d had that initial phone call.

Every project should begin with a phone conversation.  I don’t care how tech savvy you are.  I don’t care how simple the project.

Do not hide behind your computer with the excuse of capturing details or efficiency.  I don’t care how much you prefer e-mail — when a client asks to talk to you on the phone — talk to them.  They are no more interested in chatting than you are.  You will learn so much more in a phone conversation — because you can ask questions, and based on those answers — ask more questions.

Even if it’s just because the client is worried — talk to them.

It sounds pretty basic doesn’t it?  But it’s happening more and more.   I can hear you in the comments section now — “duh, Drew.  When they wouldn’t talk to you on the phone — big red flag.”

I know it.  I knew it then.  But, I kept trusting their process rather than that nagging voice in my head.

My mistake is your marketing lesson.  Don’t do this to your clients and don’t do business with anyone who does it to you.

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16 comments on “There’s actually a person on the other side

  1. Jay Baer says:

    Great post Drew. An old boss of mine once said that by the time you get to the 3rd email exchange, just pick up the phone. It’s actually more time efficient at that point, not less.

  2. Tracy Keith says:

    This makes me think of my kids and their friends who conduct all their “conversations” via text instead of ever speaking on the phone. They seem to see no need for it. Not to broadbrush a generation, but I wonder if this problem will get worse in the future.

    1. Tracy —

      Agreed!! I have said to my daughter — you know that thing makes phone calls, don’t you? Of course, she looks at me like I am a moron….


  3. Jay,

    Your boss was a smart cookie. We believe e-mail makes us more efficient but often times — that’s not the case.

    I am harping on this with my team all the time. I guarantee you — the agencies who are trying to lure them away from us are calling them regularly!


  4. I always find it’s those companies who’ll have the most trouble understanding your needs (ie non-English speaking companies in Asia) who insist on only speaking via email.

    If you want a written record, send a confirmation email after the call.

    1. Andy,

      I’ve had the experience with overseas companies and some here in the states. But everyone I was working with spoke perfect English.

      I think it’s a misplaced effort to be more efficient. But I’m with you — take meeting notes or record the call on skype and forward the file if you feel like to have to cover your rear end.

      Hey — did you see you won one of the books? I sent you an e-mail but never heard back. Can you e-mail me your mailing address?


  5. Tracy Geier says:

    Very valid point, Drew. Email definitely has its uses, but many situations call for phone conversation or even an in-person meeting. Avoiding the phone may definitely cast doubts in your customers’ minds about your legitimacy as well.

    In personal situations, the text vs. phone conversation can get quite frustrating and even down right annoying in my and my husband’s opinion.

    1. Tracy,

      I agree about the legitimacy issue. It makes me wonder if there’s some reason why they can’t talk to me.

      As for personal relationships — they aren’t meant to be conducted by text. Text is good for information passing — that’s about it.


  6. Kneale Mann says:

    The more complicated we make things, the more necessary the basics need to be present.

    I conducted a social media strategies workshop a couple of weekends ago to 100 people and virtually everyone in the room expected me to bring along my leprechaun riding a unicorn.

    Give great service.
    Look them in the eye.
    Pick up the phone.
    Admit when you can’t do it.

    This is not a shameless plug but (I think) a good illustration –

    Great piece, Drew!

    1. Kneale —

      Not a plug — a good example. Thanks for sharing. Very true about many people thinking that technology is the holy grail and social media is the answer to all communications woes.

      Sadly, nothing is that powerful.

      You know…you list those very simple things but doing them consistently is anything but simple/easy.

      Which is why we appreciate them.


  7. Great post, Drew. One of my favorite managers would always use the phone when everyone else was hunkering over emails. His communication style taught me a lot…

    1. Julia,

      Sounds like he was a smart people person. This is something I personally struggle with. I’m not as good at this with my staff, friends or anyone as I’d like to be.

      Too often, I am either traveling or so pressed for time that I just don’t pick up the phone as often as I should.

      But I am working on it. How do you manage it, time wise?


  8. Doug Pals says:

    Thanks for the post, Drew.

    Great reminder to trust one’s own gut on things like this, even if the expert is trying to convince us otherwise.

    Interestingly, I just has a client call me and said “I started to email you and then thought…this would be easier to communicate on the phone…so I just called. ”

    I often find that to be true as well. Voice communication can certainly be more efficient. Maybe it is the ability to speak and be understood more quickly when we talk vs. writing that I like.

    Like you, I think the big picture needs to be explored before all the details that need tracking get laid out. Tracking them is great, but knowing that you are tracking the right tasks to get to the right result is even better.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Good to learn from others.

    1. Doug,

      I have to admit, the older I get — the more I rely on my instincts and gut feelings. They’re rarely wrong.

      It’s a relationship issue, bottom line. Relationships aren’t always efficient.


  9. Marni Blythe says:

    How right you are! Interpersonal communications are being lost today because we are text and email happy. Its always a huge benefit to have a quick call via phone (or skype!) then follow it up with an email to make sure you have captured everything and are on the same page with the person you spoke to. Particularly for the younger generation who only knows how to text this is such an important lesson. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I knew something was going to go wrong after the 3rd email. You had my attention with the story! Good job.

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