Many years ago, I worked with the leaders of a mountain west engineering firm on strategic planning – crafting a new vision, brand image, and business plan for the organization.  On that day, the subject matter at hand was responsiveness, and specifically the client service level performance level the gang would pursue.

Their debate centered around the promise of “returning all calls within one business day.”  Some thought this performance was doable; others were convinced it wasn’t. My thought was that actually achieving that standard would be excellent – but that the message itself wasn’t much different from other competitors.

Lots of professionals have trouble envisioning real-time responsiveness – thinking instead of their typical day – covered up with projects, people, and crises of one form or another.  They wonder how or when they’d find the time to acknowledge a client, find the right information, and get back with an answer.  And all that same day?

Many firms claim a one-day responsiveness goal – but then fail to deliver.  The message here isn’t much a breakthrough, and that’s a problem.  End use customers are not usually in a position to conduct research on firm responsiveness; instead, they rely on our promises, and on the word-of-mouth testament of others.  Saying is just not enough – but actually doing it is.

My engineering friends were also hung up here (as are many professionals) on the purpose of the call back. Believing they’ll have to fully answer all questions on the spot, they’d need to carve out time not only for the call, but for a review of the file, an update on the project, and pre-considerations of any possible issues.

But this is wrong.  Our good clients are (mostly) reasonable folks, and they understand the time and effort required for a full answer.  They’re usually not expecting that, and instead simply want to be acknowledged.  Most of the time, what we need to say in the moment is “I see you; I hear you, and I’m on it.”

Generally, our quick reply will be something like: “Hey, I’m in a meeting right now, but wanted to acknowledge your call; can I get back to you tomorrow with that information?” That’s all it takes.  Or how about ”I’m out of pocket today, but my (assistant PM, project colleague, or admin assistant) will connect with you right away, and I’ll call you later.”  Remember, what the client usually expects is a simple (but quick) acknowledgement that they are there.  Ping!

Working through all of this, the leaders at this firm became more emboldened about their promise to clients and prospects.  And here’s where they ended up:

“All calls returned within 24 hours; 90% of them within ten minutes.”

Now that’s different.


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