Returning Phone Calls

by Nancy Friedman, The Telephone Doctor

Every once in a while I get asked....."Nancy, what do you think of people who don't return their phone calls?" My answer? NOT Very much. Not return a phone call....??? Not acceptable.

Few things can be labeled ruder. Then I sometimes hear, "Yes, but Nancy.. you just don't know how many calls I get during the day. I can't return them all."

Who said YOU had to return them all? We all get a lot of phone calls. Myself included. And I may not be able to return each and every one myself. I do though make sure they get returned in my behalf by someone in my office and in a timely manner.

True story: A while back...I was cleaning up in my office...and moved a large file cabinet. Low and behold...behind the file cabinet...was an eight-month-old phone message from a client.

I immediately stopped what I was doing...and dialed him up.....When he answered...I told him... "HI Bob, you know I always return all my calls....I just never say when...." He laughed and said, "It's good you practice what you preach."

Not returning a phone call is like not using your turn signal. Just plain rude. The other day my husband and I were driving down the highway and one of the cars was going from lane to lane to lane without using the turn signal. Dick looked at me and said, "Oh hell, he probably doesn't return his phone calls either."

Ah, Nancy...but what if it's an unhappy client? I don't like to return those calls. (Well, who does?) My answer: "You're getting the proverbial second chance. The client is letting you know something is wrong and would like you to fix it. Frankly, it's when the clients never call us that we need to be concerned. That's when they're taking their business elsewhere.

Ok, Nancy, that's when someone's calling me. What about the clients who don't call ME back? How do I get people to return MY phone calls? Not sure there's a fool proof way, but here's a Telephone Doctor tip that has helped a lot:

Always leave a stated deadline. A message of "call me as soon as possible" makes it a decision for that person and takes the situation out of your control. And their "as soon as possible" may not be your "as soon as possible." Make sure you leave a stated deadline: "Please call me by noon, Thursday, June 10th." Use the day, the date and a time.

Several positive things happen with this particular method.

If the message with a stated deadline is given to a secretary and not left on voice mail, the person taking the message can usually tell you, "Oh, Mr. Jones won't be back until the following Tuesday." And that way you'll know your message won't be able to be returned by the time you would like it to be. Again, if you're talking with a person, you should ask if your party will be able to return the call when you need it to be returned.

If you do leave your stated deadline on voice mail, do yourself a BIG FAVOR and hit the zero after you leave the message and try to get to someone who can tell you if Mr. Jones is even in the building to receive the message. Many people have a "and I'll call you back as soon as possible" on their voice mail and have gone on vacation.

* Nancy Friedman was a featured speaker at the June 2000 Missouri Bar SOLO meeting. She is president of Telephone Doctor, a customer service training company, specializing in improving communications with your clients. She is a keynote speaker on these topics and can be reached in St. Louis at (314) 291 1012...or visit the Telephone Doctor