When To Email and When To Phone

Don’t you just love requests for information by email with a name, but without a signature? If you don’t know me personally, at least supply that vital bit of information that identifies beyond a name who you are, who you represent and a choice of contact details including location. Your signature or lack of it determines how seriously I take your enquiry. The less information, I have found, the lesser chance of the enquiry being significant.

Once I know who it’s from I can prioritise the enquiry and decide how best to respond. Usually the key bit of information is the phone number which in the case of a land line may give a hint regarding location. Since you emailed me I can safely assume a response is required, by my preferred method.

Beautiful Businesswoman telephoning and working in the office.

The most efficient response by far is a phone call, and it remains my firm favourite. Why? Because I can ask questions and get to the crux of your need or problem. Why should there be a problem? Well, the only reason we do anything is to solve a problem or experience some form of pleasure (in the case of eating, it addresses both!). Can you think of anything else?

By sending an email without a signature you limit the response options available. If I prefer using questions to pinpoint exactly how best to help you, an email conversation is going to prove frustrating to me for a number of reasons. Email responses are seldom immediate. Often the parties to not have equal communication skills. If I have other meetings to attend, I may not be available to wait for email responses while the conversation goes hither and thither. A phone call could have cleared everything up in quick time, provided I was sufficiently prepared to ask the right questions. Of course I may get voicemail. Very seldom do I leave a voice message as it’s time consuming for the receiver and may prove annoying. Rather hang up and send a brief sms.

But then one must ask, why would someone omit their signature from an email? Is it laziness, bad email etiquette, or are they simply afraid of the telephone? Perhaps it’s to control the medium of response. Personally I find this discourteous.

There are times when an email is appropriate – to send a proposal, outline all the details of a complex problem, send someone a list, invite someone to an event, request information etc. Then there are times when it’s limited – for instance in the first response to an enquiry, because an email is one dimensional and a conversation by email can take days (which is why messaging was invented). In my experience an email requesting pricing is very dangerous unless you are able to dig a little deeper, as it may prevent you from understanding context or illustrating value.

Sms is useful for a quick alert (remember to get back to me about dates) – especially if you want to alert someone about something important without interrupting what they are busy with. Just beware of “please take the chicken out of the oven at 17h30” What if they don’t get the message on time? As a conversation medium sms has it’s limitations, unless this is the rare time when both parties have absolutely nothing to do except engage one another – in which case real time messaging beats sms.

The point very simply is that there is a place for email, sms and messaging, but in a world where communication skills, particularly vocal skills are deteriorating, not improving – there is a place for a good old fashioned phone call. It could save both parties bags of time and frustration.

Then of course, there is a place for a good old hand written thank you card because few people do it anymore. Imagine the impact if you did?

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