How — and When — to Communicate with Clients

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What is the appropriate medium to use to communicate with clients and colleagues? How quickly should you respond when someone contacts you about your product or service?

Recently I sent an email to the owner of a local yoga studio I belong to about launching a monthly newsletter for her clients. It took six days to get a response from her. Granted, she operates two other businesses in addition to the studio. She is a busy person. But you would think that someone who is a client or who offers a solution for her business warrants a quicker response than six days.

But my experience begs the question: as a business owner, executive or employee, how quickly should your respond to emails, text messages and phone calls? Much of that depends on the channel used, the type of conversation you’re having and what kind of relationship you have with the other person.

There is a time and place for everything, and some channels are more appropriate at certain times and for certain purposes than others. While the information presented below may seem like common sense, it helps to have a primer explaining which medium works best. Here’s how I break it down:

Text messages
I love text messaging for sending quick, brief messages. I am constantly amazed at the immediacy of this medium, the way I can send and receive messages instantaneously. It is ideal for confirming appointments, checking in with friends, confirming addresses, or just to say hello. Walgreens sends a text message to remind me when my prescription is ready for pickup, and my local hair salon uses it to confirm appointments.  However, I would not use it to carry a lengthy conversation, plan an event that requires a lot of details, negotiate a contract, or share bad news.

If texting is part of your business communications, follow your clients or customers lead. If they contact you by texting, they probably expect a response fairly immediately. The ideal response time is within a few hours, if not sooner. If you don’t respond within a short time period, those clients may take their business elsewhere.

Studies show that many older office workers and business owners prefer communicating by email to conduct business. They use it to provide more detailed explanations, ask questions, and give more complete responses to clients’ questions. While it is still important to be brief, there’s less chance of misunderstanding with email because it is more thorough. It also provides a paper trail for conversations, so you can always go back to see what was communicated previously.

In my experience, emails have a longer response expectation than texting. I suggest responding to emails with one to two days. Even if you don’t have an answer to their question, it is better to contact them to thank them for their inquiry and you will get back to them with an estimated response time.

Phone calls
For lengthier conversations involving two people, phone calls are best, whether it’s to negotiate the terms of a contract, share important or negative news, work out details for an event and discuss test results with a doctor. The downside is that it can be more time-consuming, which may not be an option if you are a busy professional. But sometimes it is necessary to talk by phone to get to the heart of the conversation and resolve problems. Much like emails, I suggest responding to phone inquiries within a day or two.

In the tech-dominant world we live in, one-on-one personal meetings and conversations seem outdated. But they do occur and are necessary for business. Some conversations simply need to be done in person, such as job interviews, job performance reviews, event planning, or sharing important news about a company or business. In a one-on-one setting, the conversation may be more personal and personable. Like phone calls, they can be time-consuming, but they can be helpful to get more detailed plans in place.

Another important factor to keep in mind when choosing which medium to use for your conversation is the recipient of your message. How well do you know this person? Are they a casual business acquaintance, or a close colleague? How well you know the recipient may determine which channel you use. For example, you may be more likely to email someone you don’t know to introduce yourself, while phone calls or face time will likely be used for people you work with on a regular basis.

Your choice of communication medium might also depend on what type of medium your client prefers. Many millennials prefer text messages for communication. In that case, you probably will want to converse that way, but perhaps follow up with a phone call or email to make sure details don’t fall through the cracks.

With so many communication channels available, it can be a bit confusing to know which to use at different times. Knowing which medium to use and when to respond shows that you are conscientious and considerate in the way you communicate with clients and colleagues.

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