Archive for September 15th, 2011

Setting Policies for Responsive (and Manageable) Communication Flows

Everyone talks about providing clients with great service. But think about it… if you are interrupting your train of thought to jump the second the phone rings, how great is it for that client whose important work you just interrupted? So for practical purposes in figuring out how you can actually provide great service to client–smoothly and consistently–you begin to realize that you have to be more intentional about your policies and procedures for communication. These are the things that make things manageable in your business. Because if they aren’t manageable for you, then your quality of work and service to clients becomes compromised and unmanageable as well. And that’s not good business or service.

It’s true to a certain extent that you may lose some prospects by not getting back to them right away. At the same time, you’d never get any work done if you answered every call the second the phone rang. It’s crazy-making to even try. As with most things, instituting smart policies and procedures in your business will help you improve your response times and communications. Following are a few tips to make things more manageable:

  1. Establish communication policies. Set a standard for responding to inquiries (e.g., “within 24 hours”). Decide which inquiries get priority attention (e.g., clients or prospective clients).
  2. Post your office hours and response protocols. Tell folks, on your website and in your voicemails, what days your office is “open” and how soon they may expect your return email or call.
  3. Require clients to follow certain procedures. While it might seem like letting clients call you for anything and everything at any time is great service, doing so will actually create conditions in your business that lead to poor performance and quality of service. To be successful, you need to have some protocols that let you manage work and communication well in your business. Don’t be afraid to tell clients how work requests must be submitted (e.g., you might require that they be submitted in writing by email only) or that phone calls and meetings are done by appointment.
  4. Get a receptionist. If you worry that a happy, informative Voicemail message isn’t enough, but still need uninterrupted concentration time to get work done, you can hire a live Virtual Receptionist service like Ruby Receptionists.
  5. Map out a process for qualifying inquiries. There are lots of ways your website can do this work for you so you can reduce the time you spend on unnecessary calls and emails. You can design your website so that visitors are guided toward one action (e.g., submitting a form to schedule a consultation). If you prefer one method of contact over another, emphasize that method and make it the most visible and prominent. Another way to pre-qualify clients is to have them complete an online form that will help you determine if someone meets your minimum criteria for an ideal client and what your next steps should be with that person. In your Voicemail message, ask callers to be sure and visit your website (if they haven’t yet) and give them the url.

Remember, in order to give great service you have to set foundations (policies, standards, protocols, workflows) in your business that enable you to do that consistently and sustainably.