There are times when nothing but a chat will do. When you’re closing a deal, winning a commission or picking up the details of a project, you want to do it in person. You want to be able to ask questions, make suggestions and give the client confidence that you can do the job.
But when the project’s underway, you want to be left to get on with it.
It doesn’t always work out that way. At best, clients have updates. At worst, they have whims. A quick chat to tell them how things are going can soon become a 180 degree change of direction, complete with back-flip and forward somersault. Sometimes, the less said — and the less often — the better.
Fortunately, when you have to get in touch but don’t want more than the briefest of contacts, you do have options.
SMS for Quick Updates
Perhaps the simplest is to send them a message by SMS. You know they’ll get it, you won’t have to type more than a sentence or two — no one expects to receive a complete report by text — and you can do it from anywhere.
On the other hand, an update by SMS might seem a little rude; if you can text, you can call. And once it’s arrived, the client (or whoever you’re avoiding) will know you’re by the phone. You can expect them to call back, which rather defeats the point.
The best bet then, is to start by indicating you’re not available. “On the road now, but work’s going fine. Halfway through.” gets the update across, shows you’re not available to talk but also suggests that the client’s on your mind so much that you’re prepared to text him even while you’re out. Now, there’s a bonus.
Instant Messaging for Delayed Replies
The only thing worse than a long chat about a job when you’d rather be getting on with it, is a long IM conversation. It’s slower than a phone call, rarely goes into as much detail and the typos are frustrating.
But who says the conversation has to be two-way? One of the advantages of instant messaging is the ability to snoop. You can be invisible, wait until the other side goes offline then send the message. They’ll get it when they come back by which time, of course, you’ll be offline again…
Twitter for Public Messaging
SMS lets you send a private message to one person. Twitter lets you send a message to lots of people at the same time.
As a way of avoiding talking to a client — or anyone else — Twitter is a bit of a blunt instrument. Writing “Finished the first stage of the widget project. Going to buy bread.” might keep the client off your back for a while but it’s a bit impersonal, and you have to know that the client is on your Twitter list.
But if you’re looking for a way to keep the other side informed without showing that you’re trying, Twitter could work.
Blogging for Power Messages
Like Twitter, blogging makes your message public — which might not be a good thing. But unlike Twitter, a blog lets you go into detail and sometimes, a client might appreciate the publicity.
Clearly, you have to be careful here. You don’t want say something on your blog that could get you into trouble but if you can put a report on your blog — and if you’re sure your client reads it — you might be able to write enough to make any follow-up call unnecessary.
And you’d get some blog content out of it too.
Emails for Detailed Messages
Of course, get the client’s wish for privacy wrong on a blog and you could get a follow-up call anyway… telling you you’re fired.
If you’re going to go as far as putting a complete report on paper, you may as well put it in an email and keep it private.
That might be convenient for you — you’ll get the time to organize your thoughts, attach examples and go into detail but some clients prefer to listen rather than read. And many like to make their replies in person.
Email is often the best solution when you have a lot to explain and want to make your points clearly but if your client’s the type who likes to talk, it might just shorten the phone call rather than substitute it. Or worse, create a reason for it.
Voice Mail for Missed Messages
When a client really wants to talk — and when you really don’t want to — there’s always voice mail. It might be an old standard but it still works… provided it’s done right. That means describing when you’ll be available to talk so that you’re ready when it happens, and leaving enough detail to reduce the chances that it will.
It also means picking a time to call when you know there will be nobody home, and that’s not always easy.
Video Mail to Show you Care
Receiving a voice message can be frustrating. It makes people feel that they missed a call rather than received a message. Put your words on video though and you can create a completely different impression. You might be saying exactly the same thing, but your face in front of a camera will show that you’re hi-tech and prepared to make an effort.
And best of all, a video message looks like a complete package rather than a note that needs to be answered. It might just be enough to do the trick while you do the work.
Of course, there are always going to be times when you have to get in touch. But getting the most out of your productivity means choosing those times carefully… and messaging the rest.
Tell us how you provide updates, without calling, below.