Time Management: Educating Your Clients on When to Email or Call
As the former owner of a Managed Service Provider (MSP) I’m all too familiar with out-of-hours telephone calls from clients that begin “I’m sorry to bother you but I urgently need your help”.
I’m also familiar with the ever-so-bad-habit of checking work emails of an evening or weekend, “just in case” there is an emergency or something that needs your urgent attention.
Then you "just send a quick reply” and before you know it, the person you’ve replied to has replied themselves and you’re into a conversation.
While most of us work in the IT industry out of a innate desire to help people, responding to telephone calls or emails like these of an evening or weekend can not only cause you to quickly burnout by feeling that you have to be “always on” but they can also cause friction with your loved ones.
Friends and Family may be understanding when it comes to your dedication to work, but I guarantee that while you feel your work is important - they may struggle to understand why you put business ahead of your personal relationships.
Setting Inappropriate Expectations
The first time you respond to an email or a telephone call from a client outside of your normal business hours, even if it is just a “one off”, you’re doing something very simple - you’re giving your clients permission to contact you this way again in the future. And trust me when I say that they will!
By setting your clients expectations that if they contact you any time of day or night that you will respond, guess what? They’ll contact you anytime day or night!
On the other hand, if you don’t respond to that telephone call or email immediately but do respond as soon as the office opens the next day - you’ll be setting the expectations with your clients that you’re ultra-responsive… during the hours they pay you to be!
Setting Appropriate Expectations
But what if you’ve already educated your clients to expect an out-of-hours response and are now trying to re-educate them that you work business hours alone?
With email, it’s simple - don’t read the message, and don’t reply to the message. I mean it!
Even if you "just take a look” at emails, the contents of those emails will be on your mind - disrupting your time with friends and family and ensuring you don’t get a good nights sleep. Do yourself a favor and turn off from work on an evening - don’t read emails until the following day.
With out of hours telephone calls, try this tactic. The next time a client calls you at 9pm with an Excel spread sheet problem, don’t respond immediately. Leave it at least 30 minutes to an hour, then call the client back and say “I’m sorry I missed your call, I was at a family meal with my phone turned off. How can I help?”
Immediately you’re doing two things:
- Letting the client know that you have a personal life.
- Being helpful.
In nearly all of the cases I’ve used this approach in, a surprising thing happens. The client apologies for disturbing your family time (they know they were being naughty anyway) and advises you they’ve found a solution to their problem anyway. They then conclude by thanking you profusely for responding to the call.
It’s my observation that if people believe that they can resolve their problem quickly by sharing it with you, whether it disturbs you or not, they will. But once they don’t get the immediate response they are expecting - they’ll go about fixing the problem themselves. They’ll Google the issue or do something to help themselves - something they probably should have done before disturbing you.
The client will think twice before calling you out of hours next time because you’ve educated them that you won’t respond immediately, that they’ll be disturbing not only you but your family, and that they’re perfectly capable of solving their niggling problems themselves anyway!
By giving too freely of your time and expertise outside of normal business hours, you’re educating your clients that this is OK and giving them permission to call or email you at all hours of day and night. If they aren’t paying you for 24x7 support - you’re effectively killing off any potential of upselling the client to this service in the future. Why would they pay for this service when you already offer it for free?
By setting barriers around your personal time, by not reading or responding to emails, and by suppressing the urge to immediately jump in and help clients who can probably just as well help themselves - you educate your clients that they while they may choose to work all hours, you do not.
As the former owner of an award winning IT Managed Service Provider, Richard Tubb works with MSPs to help them increase sales, take on employees and build up relationships with key industry contacts. You don't have to do it alone any more - contact Richard and have a chat about your needs and how he can help you.
Follow Richard Tubb on Google+ and for more news and advice for MSPs