Phone Call vs. Email: How to Know when to Take the Conversation Offline
“Can you hear me now?”
More like, “Can you understand me now?”
If you’re like me, it’s much easier to put your thoughts into writing than speak them out loud. I always either say more words than I should or don’t say enough of them. There’s no happy medium.
For a project manager like me, efficient and effective communication with clients is key for a successful relationship. Writing an email helps me review and edit my own thoughts to help me get to the point faster.
But how do you know when not to email and when to pick up the phone to have a verbal conversation (yes, our phones do still have that capability)?
Managing Client Communication
Project management boils down to managing communication. As we’ve said before, it takes a specific type of person to be a project manager, and being a good communicator (as well as a good listener) are among the top skills needed for project management.
Despite our best efforts to manage client relationships, things still get lost in email. An email can easily get put off until later. The fact is, though, people want to be heard.
Your clients need to know they are a priority. Clients are important and deserve your attention. Don’t leave them waiting on an email response that’s been sitting in your inbox for one or two days (or longer).
My advice? Close the Mail app, and open the one that looks like an ancient artifact you haven’t used in 10 years.
5 Times to Call Instead of Email
Now, you may be thinking that everything can easily be handled with an email, right? (It is 2017, after all.)
But there are some instances when a phone call works better than an email to maintain a good client relationship. Here are five times to pick up the phone.
1. When You Need a Quick Turnaround
A phone call can be necessary to clarify why a project with a deadline hasn’t yet been approved.
For example, if an email has been scheduled to send on a certain date to promote an event, but no approval has been received the day before, a call can clear things up to ensure the schedule stays intact.
2. When You Want to Un-complicate Something Complicated
Asking questions in real time gives you the ability to get answers in real time.
Certain things can mean different things to different people — especially via email. That’s why it’s important to call and get the whole picture of the problem at hand.
3. When You Need to Apologize
Ouch. Apologizing is hard for everyone, but it’s much better to own up to a mistake and be sincere about it.
A phone call can help relay the emotion in your voice. It also shows your respect for that client, because you had the courage to call rather than hide behind your screen.
People have emotions, even (especially) in business. So eat that frog, and pick up the phone when you need to say you’re sorry.
4. When You Want to Discuss Strategy
A client might come to us with 50 ideas for the upcoming month — which is great — but we need to trim those ideas down to one practical strategy.
Calling the client to discuss their ideas helps us identify which ones they are most passionate about and/or which ones are most needed for success.
5. When You’re Starting a Relationship
Meeting someone new is best done in person. But when circumstances don’t allow for a physical meeting, a phone call is the next best thing.
Along with establishing availability and trust, a phone call allows you to get to know each other’s personalities, which is great fodder for a healthy client relationship.
5 Communication Tips for Project Managers
Now that you know when to call your clients, here are five important things to keep in mind when communicating as a project manager.
1. Be Proactive about Both Client and Team Communication
Your clients won’t always be in the same city or even the same country as your team, so proactive communication is key.
If your team has remote staff members like ours, it’s even more important to keep them engaged and involved.
2. Consider Doing a Video Call
Remember when I said establishing a relationship is best done in person? A video call allows you to get the bet of both worlds!
Video calls are great for both team communication and project management. With the ability to share screens and review materials together, you can be sure the other person is engaged.
3. Take Ownership over Your Choices (and Missteps)
Build trust with your client (or team member) by owning up to the decisions you’ve made.
They don’t always have to be your mistakes, either! Sharing wins is always more exciting and genuine when done offline.
4. Set Expectations about Your Availability
Boundaries need to be set at the beginning of any relationship.
Setting expectations for deadlines, points of communication, and even working hours is best discussed over the phone and then followed up with via email (if needed).
5. Remember the Golden Rule
At 9 Clouds, we set out to act as partners to our clients. You can’t go wrong when you treat people the way you’d like to be treated.
Takeaway: Pick Up the Phone!
Communication is key.
Okay, now louder for the people in the back: Communication is key!
Remember that sometimes a phone call is better than an email. Know when it’s the right time to take a conversation offline and onto a phone line.