No Response IS a Response

May 6, 2011

It only takes minutes to make your client happy.

By Susan Dooley, April 20, 2011

Isn’t the courtesy of a return phone call just proper business etiquette? Unfortunately not in today’s business world. Smart phones, texting, email, and voice mail mean it’s easier than ever to avoid human interaction.

Let’s stop right here and acknowledge that there are often very good reasons why a return call may fall through the cracks. Possibilities include:

  1. I didn’t get the message
  2. I’m busy now but intend to call you later
  3. I’m gathering information to make our conversation more meaningful
  4. I’m on vacation
  5. I’m ill and out of my office for an undetermined period of time

All valid reasons, certainly. However, there’s a risk that the person feeling “snubbed” by the offender may draw a completely different, and inaccurate, conclusion, such as:

  1. This is not a top priority to you
  2. You’re not a professional
  3. You’re a procrastinator
  4. You don’t have the answer
  5. I’m not important to you
  6. You’re disorganized
  7. You can’t be counted on
  8. You’re hiding
  9. You have bad news, but are not strong enough to communicate it to me

Returning a client’s call is just good business etiquette

Yikes! No professional would want to be labeled with these character attributes. Unfortunately, the wrong interpretation by the right person can harm business relationships and even careers.

So what’s a person to do? Return the call. Even if it’s just a 30-second conversation, return the call.

Early on in my career, I was in a conversation with the CEO of my company when he abruptly interrupted and said, “Susan, I don’t have time to talk about this now, but you’re important to me. Let’s schedule a time to get together when I can really focus on you.” He pulled out his calendar, scheduled the appointment, honored that time slot, and gave me his undivided attention. I was not at all offended, and learned a great lesson on leadership that day.

For phone calls or e-mail, consider a quick response like: “Phil – I got your message. I’m swamped at the moment, but intend to call back by the 15th. I call this “managing expectations,” and I believe it’s what separates the best from the rest. You don’t have to have “the answer,” you don’t have to invest a tremendous amount of time. Just take a moment and return the call. The respect you earn in the eyes of others – even if you don’t say what they want to hear, is priceless.

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