Consider the following situation:
We bring out a new feature, and the next day our help desk gets a panicky email from a customer who’s having a problem with it and doesn’t know what to do.
A series of email exchanges - each exchange separated by a day or so - takes place between the help desk on the one hand and the increasingly frustrated customer on the other.
The situation is not resolving. What to do?
The answer is simple, yet a lot of people never think of it. Stop emailing; instead, pick up the phone and talk to the customer.
It’s surprising how quickly customer anxiety can be calmed – and how simply problems can be solved – with a simple phone call.
In our email-based culture, we seem to have forgotten the power of human-to-human conversation, be it on the phone or face-to-face.
My experience has shown that there are times when human-to-human exchanges not only get better results, but they get those results more quickly than electronic exchanges.
And learning to recognize when you should ditch email for the sound of a voice can actually increase the speed at which you do business, and produce better results.
It’s all about using the right communications tool for the situation.
There are plenty of occasions when an email is just fine.
It’s tremendously valuable inside any company as a way of keeping employees informed and for handling routine exchanges of information.
And when you are looking for a very specific and concise piece of information, an email is just the ticket.
But if the question you want answered is open-ended or requires a back-and-forth discussion, then an email may not be your best bet.
And it’s definitely not ideal if you are trying to build a relationship with someone, develop trust, defuse tension or do damage control.
In these cases, face-to-face meetings and phone conversations will produce better results.
Face-to-face meetings, for example, are an easy way to solve office frustrations.
I’ve seen cases where employees exchange emails internally and the dialogue escalates and gets emotional. A face-to-face meeting is an almost sure-fire way to resolve any kind of frustration or tension among employees.
Because you can read each other’s body language, and you come away feeling you are both working on the problem together – as members of the same team.
There are other situations where phone calls produce great results. In fact, real conversations can speed up the resolutions process considerably.
Take sales or account management. It can take time to reach the person you want to talk to. But I’ve found that once you engage that person in a live conversation on the phone, you can get as much done in 15 minutes as you can in a week of back-and-forth emails.
The same is true in customer relations. Any time you have a frustrated customer, the instinct should be to call them. Chances are you will resolve the problem much more quickly than you would by sending emails back and forth.
An email may seem quick, but there are times when you can achieve real velocity through phone calls and face-to-face meetings.
Here is a scenario of how tools can work well together: It’s Monday afternoon here in Ottawa and I want to connect with a prospect in Europe. I send them a short email with the call to action being setting up a time to chat on Tuesday (I suggest two possible times that might work well and state that I’m able to call them. Doing this removes unnecessary back-and-forth to find a time, and removes the question of who will call who). I then use the call on Tuesday to learn more about the prospect, build trust, and move the discussion forward more efficiently. I then follow up with details or instructions that are best handled in an email.
Yet too many people are reluctant to pick up the phone. They have to be prodded to do so. Email should not be the default communications method.
It’s just one tool among several. And for best results, it’s best to pick the right tool.
At Klipfolio we use a number of tools to communicate within our four walls with employees and externally with our customers. Here is a chart I put together that ranks five common communications methods against speed, efficiency and effectiveness.
Allan Wille is a Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Klipfolio. He’s also a designer, a cyclist, a father and a resolute optimist.
Originally published June 3, 2016, updated Jun, 18 2019