The attorneys were talking about handling e-mail and phone calls. The partner from the young firm bragged that he made a practice of always responding to e-mail the next day. His practice was not to read e-mail until the morning after and then to respond to it. He explained that it avoided interruptions to his work schedule during the day. It was clear that he considered a next-day treatment to be “very responsive” to his clients. The partner had given me his direct office phone number. Since our lunch, I have had the occasion to call the same attorney on several occasions. I always get his voice message system. He has never actually answered his direct number. As with e-mail, he consistently returns my calls the following day.
Tom then asks whether this is really responsive. Of course he does not, but he wants to know what others think, and I have to take his bait.
How can people who are so out of touch with their clients still have clients to be out of touch with? Geez, I am afraid to not respond to client inquiries within minutes. When I am on trial, my secretary runs interference to find out if "later that night" is good enough or should someone else in the office handle the call? And she knows that if its critical, there are lunch and bathroom breaks during trial. I know my clients like the fact that I respond like this--they tell me and they tell the people who conduct our satisfaction interviews.
But put my insecurities aside and let's think about this from the client's perspective (always a good place to start and finish, by the way). Client Mary is sitting at her desk working away on a project that her CFO wants later that day. A question comes up and she emails the lawyer referred to in Tom's post. She doesn't write that this is life and death because she knows the lawyer is in his office, having spoken with him earlier in the morning. All day long she waits for information she needs to complete her report to the CFO. She waits. And waits some more.
Still waiting. The end of the day is approaching. What is a client to do? Wait for the lawyer in Tom's story and she hurts her career by turning a project in late to the CFO. So she calls somebody else if she can, gets an immediate answer and timely finishes her project. Who will she call the next time?
Clients call when they do for a reason. Its their reason and, most of the time, it is an important reason. You are the SERVICE PROVIDER. It is your job to honor their reasons.
Think minutes, not hours and certainly not days. And don't get me started again on voicemail. Just check out this earlier post.