It’s not that long ago that we all had Rolodexes (which doubled as our own personal CRM), phones were attached by wires and the main form of communication was by a pigeon!
Then along came technology that promised to streamline us, make everything easily available at our fingertips, enable us to be more productive, work more cohesively together in teams, help us deliver better levels of service to our clients and ultimately make us more profitable.
Hmmm, I’m sure I’m not alone when I sometimes think that technology has added a layer of communication within a business that just didn’t exist previously.
It used to be simple, you had a lovely bubbly person who managed your switchboard and an efficient Post Room that sorted the incoming mail every morning, leaving you in peace to focus on your day and your business priorities.
Now, it’s not uncommon to feel the pressure of an email inbox constantly filling up, multiple phones (both landlines and mobiles) ringing at once, people trying to ring you via Skype interrupting you again, notifications from your LinkedIn contacts or groups landing in your communication feed and a Twitter feed to monitor…and that’s just a snapshot of what you and potentially your sales team are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
So how do you manage the weight of this constant barrage of inbound communication, meanwhile ensuring you communicate the ‘right’ things to your team without overloading them and becoming part of the internal problem AND ensure you maintain the communication needed to meet your clients’ expectations and a strong timely sales process? The answer is NOT checking emails on your phone whilst still in bed … even though we’ve all done it!!
1. Be disciplined with email
Check (and blast them) at set times of the day, then shut them down and crack on with your daily priorities. Switch off any flags or notifications that could distract you (research shows that even if you don’t action them, the simple task of diverting your attention to read something elsewhere on your screen, only to revert back to what you were originally focused on, actually reduces your overall productivity by around 25%).
If and only if you need to be completely reactive to inbound email, perhaps in a customer service team environment, introduce a rota system so that everyone has time to re-prioritise important tasks that often get pushed to the bottom of the pile.
2. Forget the niceties when dealing with internal communication.
Develop a culture where speed trumps perfect grammar and spelling for internal communications, specifically emails.
If we all started every email with ‘Hi, I trust you had a lovely weekend’…etc. we would never get to the important stuff. So, instead develop a culture of simply stating the actions or information needed to be shared internally, delivered in a manner that is to the point, in shorthand, and don’t fret about spelling (double and triple checking every communication and using spell check wastes time).
Obviously, this is not the case for external client communication, but shortening the time you speed re-reading your internal communication saves days.
NOTE: I once heard a story about the Queen, in that at a reception she never moves between conversations by saying hello or goodbye, which saves hours per evening and means she can speak to many more people at one event. Adopt the same philosophy for email.
3. Ask – are you the problem?
Every time you include 5 people into an email, you are requiring 5 people in your team to read and understand your message. If they are not required to act on something or it’s not directly relevant to their own immediate priorities, leave them out. Instead, introduce weekly (or even daily) round-ups of bigger picture stuff that in one email brings together lots of individual moving parts within the business.
At Company Shortcuts, we stick to the rules that if an email is addressed to you directly then you are required to act, if you are cc’d then it’s for information only, and woe-be-tied anyone who hijacks a conversation that is not meant directly for them. (I know I’ve fallen foul of that until my team has kindly reminded me to butt out!).
4. Set expectations both internally and externally
One of the most important things I can recommend is to set the expectations for communication response times using different methods and ensure these are understood by your team and customers.
My team have a system for escalation in terms of reaching me (or each other) and email is at the bottom of the pile.
I do the same with the clients who I deal with directly. I set their expectations that if they email me, they will receive a response within 1 working day, if they want a lengthy telephone call with me to contact our office who will diary the call in my calendar at the earliest convenience and if it’s a quick call or a short answer they need to either call my mobile, or better still text me, which I can often respond to immediately.
I ask them, never to leave voicemail messages that simply state – please call me back, instead if they state the reason for their call, the question they have etc. If I’m not able to communicate immediately with them, I can often arrange for them to receive some information or involve one of our amazing team to support them.
Incidentally, I’ve never had a quibble from a client saying we were difficult to reach, or that they couldn’t get a timely response. The key is setting the expectations at the outset.
5. Anchor times in your calendar for other communication tasks
Depending on other areas of communication that either you or your team need to manage, similarly to managing email, the most productive policy is to anchor times in your diary where you deal with each individual platform such as LinkedIn or Twitter.
Ultimately there are peak sales hours of every day which MUST be maximised and sometimes you just have to ensure both you and your team are constantly focused on productive activities in the here and now that drive profit – or what we call Profit Priorities.