Technology can be amazing. There are some very good tools available to help us manage and communicate properly. In addition to the traditional desk phone, there are now cell phones, fax machines and e-mail. Sometimes these tools are lifesavers. Other times, it just feels like an information overload. However, ignoring the problem will only make it bigger. Learning to use information tools properly, on the other hand, will actually increase productivity.
As a wise man once said, your strength can also be your weakness. The same can be said of technology. Its strength lies in its ability to relay vast amounts of information almost instantly. This could also be its weakness in that humans can sometimes have difficulty keeping pace with this deluge of information. Let's look at a few ways to make technology work for you.
Let's start off with the fax machine. The first time I saw a fax machine I thought I was watching an episode of Star Trek. What a useful tool! Can you imagine being without one? This is a great way to have something in writing that both parties can see. Make sure all of the company's information is on the cover sheet of any fax sent. I have seen many times that something was ordered incorrectly because the information was taken over the phone but not translated properly onto paper. Faxes help avoid this potential pitfall. Make it a habit to follow up conversations with a fax or e-mail so that there isn't a misunderstanding. The potential costs saved in doing this can be substantial.
Another big tool is the phone. However, not everyone makes the most of this technology. Why spend thousands of dollars per year on phones and not return phone calls? The same is true of paying for the Internet and failing to respond to e-mails.
One of the biggest complaints customers have is that tradesmen never seem to return phone calls. It is true that it's not always easy to make calls while working the showroom or out on a job. It makes good sense, then, to set aside special time during the day to stop and review any messages that may have come in and return calls. I find that doing this twice a day is effective. Keep a pad of paper nearby to jot down the names and numbers of those trying to reach you. I like to prioritize the calls as well. But just because someone is No. 10 on the list doesn't mean you can forget about them. You should make every effort to return all of your calls. Thinking you are just too busy to return all your calls is a mistake. It can weaken the relationship with your customer, and you may also lose the opportunity for more work.
Have you ever tried to leave a message with someone but can't because his or her voice mailbox is full? That can be frustrating because you will have to take the time to try to contact them again later — perhaps more than once. Those who use voice mail successfully check their mailbox almost religiously. One of our kitchen designers says he checks his voice mail every hour when he is away from his office. Does he do it because he has nothing else to do? No, it just makes his life easier when he gets back to the office.
What about the game of phone tag? Frustrating is the word I use. When I see this is what is developing I do two things. The first is in the message I leave. I tell them to not leave a message but rather connect to a receptionist and ask them to track me down. At times, but not always, I'll leave my cell as a number to reach me. I don't like to use this option when it's a customer, though. After all, you do need a little privacy and getting a phone call on a Sunday while watching the Patriots dominate the NFL is not the time to be reached.
One other thing you should do is, if you leave a message, write down the day and time you called. Good record keeping can help if the caller on the other end doesn't think you have been making an effort to reach them.The last thing is don't avoid phone calls, especially the ones that you don't want to make. It's best to take the bull by the horns. Those not-so-pleasant calls aren't going away. The longer you avoid the call, the worse the situation gets. Remember the suggestion to make a list? The bad calls should be at the top. Put out the fires so you can go and chop some wood.
Finally, my favorite way of communicating is e-mail. It has so many advantages:
• It gives you time to reflect on what you want to say, whether you're sending a message or replying.