The lost art of picking up the phone
If we were to list the most important communication tools that we have for agency account management, we would have to include telephone, email, SMS (text messaging), apps and video calls. It could certainly be debated that the most important of all these tools is not the latest messaging app, but rather the 140 year old telephone.
In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell patented the first telephone - an invention that was destined to revolutionise the world. The purpose of the telephone has been to make communication FAST, INTERACTIVE and PERSONAL.
The (definite) upsides
Short of talking with someone face-to-face, a phone call is your best chance of getting a fast, personal response. You may have to leave a voice message - placing you at the mercy of your client's timing as to when they will respond - but an answered phone call can expedite matters quickly.
A phone conversation is immediately interactive in a way that no email or text message could ever be. You are able to hear tone, intent, dimension and emotion; and you can adjust your plans quickly based on how the conversation flows.
Although it is possible to maintain a relationship purely through email (online dating is a great example) this type of relationship will remain one-dimensional without the injection of the personality which comes through having real-life, personal conversations.
"Texting and emails are simply words open to interpretation by the receiver, without the benefit of voice tone or body language." Mary Nestor-Harper, studioD
The (perceived) downsides
Phoning a client takes longer than sending an email. We can be so busy we may feel there is no time to make a phone call, which is often quite true. It is in times like these that you have to prioritise your actions. If a phone call will pay dividends in a way that an email or text never could, then you need to make that call - in spite of your busyness.
Requires small talk
A person who cuts straight to the point (on a phone call) may think they are being efficient and professional, but that approach can also be perceived as abrupt and rude. Often a degree of small talk is required to keep the call friendly and upbeat before you get to the reason why you called.
Small talk is a learned skill, so it's worth practising. You will find that the more you know about your client, and the more that you care about them and their business needs, the more natural and genuine your small talk will become. Always be aware that your client is busy and keep the small talk to a minimum (unless your client loves a good chat, in which case, go for gold!).
Picking up the phone may mean you have to first conquer a personal fear: "what if they don't want to speak with me?"; "what if I don't know what to say?"; what if...?
According to a 2013 study, 84% of people hold on to an irrational fear. Are you one of the 84%? Always remember that every time you plan to make a phone call you will be giving your client something of VALUE that they want (or need) to hear - this means that your call should be well-received. On the slim chance that the call is not well-received, it is more likely that your client is having a bad day, or the timing is slightly off, and less likely it has anything to do with you.
The (actual) downside
No paper trail
In account management it is vital to keep a record of instructions, agreements and actions. Unless you are writing detailed notes about each phone call you make, some of this vital information may be lost in the mists of memory. Therefore, you may wish to follow up some phone calls with an email that outlines important points. This will help to avoid potential "he said, she said" disagreements further down the track.
If you still feel that talking on the telephone is old-fashioned or not necessary, why not take some time to study your colleagues? Which ones would you deem to be the "most successful" in maintaining their client relationships? It's quite likely those people will spend a notable amount of time talking on the phone.
Yes, it takes time. Yes, it's not always convenient. The health of your client relationships can be - literally - just a phone call away.
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