A few agonizing weeks of intermittent business email delivery problems has offered me four important business lessons.
Every day or two, a client has asked why I haven’t responded to his or her emails. The reason is simple: I never received the email in question. Sometimes the client receives a note saying it didn’t go through. Sometimes, they get no note.
On the bright side, the fact that I wasn’t replying in a timely manner struck them as odd, enough so that they questioned me about it. But on the down side, the unpredictable nature of these email problems has perplexed not just me, but everyone who I have approached about it.
This frustrating situation has created a new reality. I no longer count on my emails reaching people. That we think emails we send will reach and be read by the recipient is one of the greatest acts of faith to occur outside a religious institution. Think about it: You count on a whole bunch of binary code, government crafted wiring, relay servers in who knows where, and a lot of luck for that email about your great business idea to reach the person, whose email may be crowded with offers for who knows what, all of which he or she has to filter, unless Google or some other service does it, before your email can appear on the person’s screen, much less be read. Doesn’t sound like a winning business model, does it? Yet we count on it everyday.
Fearful that something important might not be getting out or in my email system, I have returned to the old days. I have started making more phone calls. And the results would suggest that my annoyance with email issues might be one of the most important blessings in my business career.
As I have come to find out this week, making phone calls has several distinct benefits over email.
1) Phone calls are more reflective of reality. The tone, mood, attitude, frustrations, levity and camaraderie possible in a telephone call are key to effective communication. A person on the phone can’t hide. Moods are evident, as are the sounds in the background conveying whether someone is at Starbucks or in a meeting. When was the last time you really knew what the person sending you an email was doing or thinking, or where he or she was when that email was sent? Phone calls make it hard to hide from the day’s realities.
2) Phone calls are immediate. How many times have you sent an email and forgotten why you sent it in the time it took to receive a reply? When you make a call, the purpose of the call is right there. Neither party can forget it as easily. The best calls are ones where the purpose is stated up front and the discussion flows from there. “Hey, it’s Bob. I wanted to ________. “ That’s effective communication. Email, sadly, doesn’t encourage or easily support this economy of words.
3) Pivoting is easier on the phone. Words can box us in, especially when they are put in a permanent form. But on the phone, one can easily and quickly shift her position in response to the recipient’s words, expressions or more subtle information. Being hemmed in is the worst thing that can happen in business. Yet most of us willingly accept this limitation by relying on email for most communication.
4) The good things always happen on phone calls. When was the last time you had a great email exchange that led to a great business discovery? For me, it’s been NEVER. The possibilities are endless on a telephone call because of the freedom the medium supports. Emails inherently signal a finality in discussion, whereas phone calls provide the opportunity for “What if…” or “But….”
The loss of email reliability forced me to accept the limitations of this ubiquitous medium. Recognizing email’s limitations, I had for business success to find a tool to effectively communicate in real time with real people a real purpose geared toward real results. That tool is the phone.
(Of course, one could argue that reliance on the phone is a crutch, keeping us from committing to more face-to-face meetings. But with the global nature of business today, that argument just doesn’t hold the merit it might have 20 or 30 years ago. Yes, face-to-face is the gold standard. But an effective and affordable alternative, allowing for more business interactions, can be found in phone calls.)
After the last few weeks of complications resulting from my email woes, I can hope email unreliability never affects you or your business. But I can attest to the benefits of abandoning the comfort of banging on the keyboard to letting your fingers do the dialing to clients and prospective clients more.