Phone or email? Our how-to for always making the right call

Hannah Dawson

Client communication for small business owners - how to best stay in touch with customers

Of all the things making a comeback in recent years, the written word wasn’t one we’d predicted. Although no longer in its ink, paper, and wax stamp form, written correspondence is making a steady comeback. In 2017, the first decrease (a whopping 1.7%) in mobile call minutes was recorded - the first drop recorded since data collection on the subject began.

Considering the rise in voice command and with phone calls at the cheapest they’ve ever been, our preference for writing is a surprise. 293 billion emails are sent every day. To put that into perspective, know that that’s almost three times the number of stars in our galaxy, which is only a mere 100 billion.

But there’s no arguing that sometimes things need to be said aloud and there are huge benefits of doing so. It’s always worth considering if you’re choosing the best way to reach out to your small business clients. To speed up your decision-making as a (small) business owner, let’s take a look at what key considerations for small businesses on how to best talk to customers should be.

Difficult?

What’s the subject of your conversation? If you’re preparing for a number of questions or trying to explain an idea that’s more complex, pick up the phone. When composing a written response, people tend to say less and ask a minimal amount of questions. Only 30% of emails exceed 100 words. So if you want to ensure your client has a true understanding of what you’re explaining, you’re better off picking up the phone.

Email lends itself well to short, snappy information. If you’re asking your client to do something simple like look at a report or visit a page on your website, having it one click away increases the likelihood of them taking action. Considering what method is best can help improve your customer retention and can become part of your customer retention strategies.

Urgent?

If you need a quick response, email is never your best bet. The average office worker receives 121 emails a day, most of which they won’t get round to, or they’ll flag for later.

Phone calls, however, give you an instant answer. But, you do run the risk of putting your client on the spot. If your call comes through at a bad time, your client is likely to ignore it or answer and not benefit fully from the conversation. Emails, however, gives your client the freedom to reply when it suits them.

Who are you talking to? Knowing your (small) business clients

A long-standing customer of your brand will value the odd verbal catch-up and including some informal chat is great for sustaining relationships, customer experience, and client retention. But, they’re likely to be used to your style of reporting, so you won’t have to walk them through every piece of content you send.

Phone calls are great for relationship building, allowing for more open conversation between customers and businesses. When people write emails, they tend to condense the amount of information they include and ask for. When starting out with a new client, you want your conversations to be as valuable as possible.

A phone call or email? The answer, as always with these things…is that it depends. Use your intuition and knowledge of your customer base and you should be able to gauge what’s best for the situation you’re in. For a quick reference summary and some tips:

Advantages of emails:

  • Written account of the conversation
  • Can include a number of people in one conversation
  • Gives your client the freedom to reply when it suits them
  • Simple to share documents and files

Disadvantages of emails:

  • Easy to ignore
  • Can lack personality and tone
  • Easy to lose people before they’ve digested your whole message
  • “I’ll reply to that later”
  • Frequently requires a follow-up email anyway
  • Can be misunderstood

Advantages of phone calls:

  • Easy to explain complex ideas verbally
  • Establishes a two-way conversation that builds understanding and interest
  • Provides an opportunity to invest in building relationships and contribute to your customer retention strategy
  • Allows the client to ask any questions on the spot
  • People tend to give less filtered answers when speaking aloud

Disadvantages of phone calls:

  • Can put your client on the spot at a bad time
  • Requires a quiet space to provide good customer service
  • No record of the conversation, so important details can be lost
  • Can be more time-consuming if the conversation takes tangents
  • Requires someone who’s comfortable speaking on the phone (and not everyone is!)

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