by Tony Vidler
The classic urgent AND important dilemma: your best client is on the phone talking to you. An incoming call from your top Centre-of-Influence comes in while talking to your best client.
Are you going to upset either of them, or both of them?
Maybe you don’t have to upset either. In fact, maybe you can have both of them feeling that you are great to deal with!
There is no absolute right or wrong answer of course, but my own answer to the question intrigued some of my peers when this happened last week, and they suggested that it was worth sharing because I hung up on my best client. (“Hung up” wasn’t quite as rude as it sounds – it was a quick but polite termination of the call to take the other.).
It’s probably worth pointing out at this stage that the people I was with at the time having a friendly non-business chat all suggested to me that I should set up auto-texts so that when I couldn’t take a call the other caller would get a text from me saying that I’d call them back….but I don’t do that because I am not prepared to have every random that calls me (and there are quite a few) getting texts from me promising that I will call them. Because I won’t. A lot of them are simply people trying to sell me something I don’t want…or want stuff for free that I don’t want to give them….
So I stick with the personal touch and actualy talk to the folk I want to talk to on the phone and don’t auto-text them. But that brings us back to the dilemma when there are competing important callers, and why I reckon hanging up with a quick courtesy exit is a good thing.
Here’s the rationale:
By promising as much time and attention as they need, and as soon as possible – but not just at this moment in time – the client is typically appeased – particularly when you are able to get back to them in 10 minutes. By giving the COI priority and working into their timing and task management dilemma’s -which are the same as ours usually – they are encouraged to never hesitate to call.
One wants priority access. The other wants priority service.
Big difference in expectations. And both can be delivered.
Handling the COI call with speed and urgency builds confidence in your professionalism, efficiency, service focus…and the list of positive attributes could go on. ALL of those positive attributes are achieved or reinforced through the simple act of always answering that COI’s call as rapidly as possible and giving them priority ACCESS.
Acknowledging the importance of the client’s call and immediately promising them whatever time it takes to discuss their matter as soon as you are the conditions are right strengthens their confidence in the level of attention and concern you have for them and their business. My experience is they generally are grateful as your are promising priority SERVICE in the form of as much time as they need.
“As soon as the conditions are right” though? The conditions I am referring to are your ability to focus your attention and time upon their matter whilst maintaining absolute confidentiality and privacy.
I have never had a client upset yet with me saying something along the lines of:
“Sorry to interrupt, but can we just pause this chat until I can talk to you without being overheard?” Usually that is followed up with a brief explanation (e.g. “you are on speaker phone in my car”, or, “I am sitting with a group of people who can probably hear much of what we are talking about“). Typically clients cannot stop the conversation quickly enough when there is a suggestion that their confidentiality could be jeopardised….and if we round it out with”I should be able to talk freely in about 10 minutes” then the client is happy.
That typically takes about 10 seconds to deliver…or not much more. And that is enough time to answer the other call without losing it usually. Worst case scenario is you don’t quite catch the call from the COI but call them back seconds later with “sorry, I couldn’t get off another call quickly enough….”
While both callers feel that their call is both urgent and important, and both are treated as if it is, the reality is we have just taken “immediate” urgency for the client out of play and bought the time required, while conveying that them getting our personal focus and attention while safeguarding their interests ins paramount. At the same time we have introduced a sense of urgency where we want it, which is with the relationship that values speed and priority access.
Everyone’s happy and feels that you are giving them what matters most. So it is possible to deal with both the urgent and important calls of others while establishing your own priorities and controlling the use of your own time to a large degree.