Responding to client emails is an art form. Of course, using proper English, grammar and tone is important. For now, let’s focus on the timing of client email responses. How quickly (or slowly) you respond can determine whether that client is a Tier One, Tier Two or high/low priority. Response times can sometimes be taken personally: it lets a client know where they sit in the food chain. I’ve never heard anyone complain about getting a response too quickly, if you take too long, however, you run the risk of losing an opportunity, or worse, losing a client. Rule #1: Respond as soon as possible. We can honestly say that we’ve won business simply for responding quickly. Sounds simple, but far too many people take way too long to reply. Being too busy is not an excuse. Before you know it, you might find yourself busy looking for work.
Negotiating has its own set of rules when it comes to response timing. “Making them sweat” might work well when negotiating , but that’s off topic. For the sake of this post, we’ll just talk about the back & forth communication that take place during project management or a workflow.
There is a true science to response times. If your ‘business hours’ are the standard 9-5, you may find yourself facing challenges when responding to clients in our new global economy with different time zones, whether it be different parts of the country or different parts of the world. Our mornings are their nights and vice versa and in many cases, you can use those time changes to your advantage. But let’s assume we’re all in the same time zone…
Recently, we had a ‘learning’ moment when a team member responded to a client at 12:30am. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue for a client or strategic partner in Nepal for instance, but when you are in the same time zone, emailing a client at 12:30am may not actually be a good idea. Here’s why:
Providing a client 24/7 access can get very expensive. We currently don’t have any clients that are paying a high enough retainer to expect to reach us at 12:30am, let alone get a reply. We don’t want to be reached at that time either. What happens when you email a client at 12:30am? You imply that it is OK for THEM to email you back at 12:30am. When you do that – you go back to Rule #1: Respond as soon as possible. That might be 9am – which is over 8 hours later. In this case, we just don’t want to ever encourage or imply that we’re up late working a night shift (even if we are) and that the same customer service experienced during the day will also be delivered during the graveyard shift.
No. If there is a graveyard shift, which there often very well might be, let the communication be between team members, not clients. When its team members, we might be using G-Chat or some other instant messenger app to communicate anyway. The other reason that sending an email to a client during the middle of the night might not be a good idea is because it just might not get seen. Tons of spam comes through at night and your very important update might get pushed down and never even read.
So what can you do if you’re up late, need to blast out an update and might not be in the office the next day? Remember, just because its convenient for you doesn’t make it convenient for your clients. Save the email as a draft, get up early and press send in the morning. Alternatively, having a fellow team member send the update/communication at a later time might have its own advantages: looping someone else into the thread allows that person to reply in a timely manner when you can’t.
Basecamp®, or other project management software comments are excluded here because although they are a great way for clients and service providers to communicate, its understood that comments made here will be/can be replied to the following day. If I’m commenting on a project status on Basecamp, I’m doing so so that there is a record of it, in one location and its also time-stamped. I also know that everyone is getting a push notification that an update has been made. I don’t have to worry about it not getting read.
Best practice is to keep your communications as close to business hours as possible. Rule #2: Respond during business hours. I know that our workforce is changing and everyone’s a road warrior / work from home / work around the clock digital mad max type these days, but we have to have some standards. Remember: when anything goes, everything goes. I think you can justify a 2-3 hour swing in either direction and still be on point (7am/8am/9am through 7pm/8pm/9pm) because we do end up working early / working late. Anything outside of that time frame and you are entering the danger zone of something not being read.
Side bar: don’t even get me started on Florida time (we’re about to change that forever). We’ve recently expanded into Florida and have already encountered the phenomenon of sending an email out and not hearing back for (gasp) 24 hours. Its like sending an email to someone in Florida is like the Bermuda Triangle. I know its laid back down there, and we’re from the rush-rush-rush North East, but there is something to be said about priorities and attention. We’ve already begun to bring our style of rapid response time to some new Florida clients and they appreciate it as part of the world-class branding and customer service experience we’re bringing down south.
The art of email response time: Is it the end of the world? No. Is it something that can help set the tone of what the company culture is? Absolutely. You are training your clients on what type of customer service experience they can expect to have when they deal with you every time you communicate with them. Whether it’s having someone courteous with a clear, calm and friendly voice answer your phone when a call comes in, to the way in which you phrase your emails, to the timeliness or time of day/night of your reply; the way you communicate is the way you do business.
At the end of the day you want happy clients that will not only keep coming back, but that will send more clients your way. Every single client we’ve ever met wants to be treated special. They want attention. Responding to them promptly and during “normal” business hours is one easy way you can let them know that they are your #1 priority.
Ramon has over 22 years of experience in award-winning, market-proven, print collateral, marketing material, iphone/ipad app and website design specializing in corporate identity and branding. Ramon’s passion for entrepreneurial design was borne out of 10 years as Creative Director for Jay Walker at Walker Digital, the Stamford based idea laboratory and business incubator holding over 300 US Patents. Ramon served as Senior Art Director on the start-up launch team behind Priceline.com, a Walker company and invention. Most recently, Ramon’s led his team in developing creative projects for the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for Healthier Generation and the Chicago Cubs Charities.
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