Client Death by E-mail

When we rely on e-mails to do business, we risk misunderstanding what our colleagues are really thinking. An e-mail can't replace a phone conversation.
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Interpersonal experts believe that basic communication is over 80% non-verbal. We watch facial cues and body language to see how our audience is reacting to our message. After non-verbal cues, we listen. Vocal inflections deliver emotional values as well as information. What we see and hear helps us to determine our actions and reactions within the conversation.

In marketing, just as it is in most of the business world, lighting fast key strokes and a quick press of SEND can seem the model of client/agency efficiency. The more e-mails we write or answer, the better of a job we're doing. If the message is overlooked, misinterpreted, in need of further explanation or lost, however, we're anything but efficient. And, if our feigned efficiency has taken away the opportunity for conversation and persuasion, the marketing product as well as the client/agency relationship may be in jeopardy. We must keep in mind we're in the business of sales, not speed, no matter how seemingly inconvenient a notion this might be.

When we rely on e-mails to do agency/client business, we risk misunderstanding what colleagues are really thinking. An e-mail can't replace a phone conversation. A phone conversation can't replace a video conference. A video conference cannot replace face to face. When we lose the visual and vocal cues, we risk missing the meaning entirely.

Certainly, the need for time efficiency in our business society is of critical importance. When it comes at the price of true efficiency (getting a good job done expeditiously with the minimum amount of back and forth commentary and unnecessary revisions), e-mail and voice mail and texting may not be appropriate solutions. If you're fast and fail, after all, you're not being efficient.

Agency/client interpersonal communication builds trust in ways that emails can't. E-mail doesn't lend itself to persuasion or debate or explanation and doesn't fully afford the opportunity to share expertise. Often it takes longer through email to get to a finished product, wasting valuable time and effort that could be better spent growing the client relationship and looking for new sales opportunities for the agency.

E-mail misinterpretation could be a book onto itself. It seems everyone has a story about the email that was given emotional value it didn't deserve or wasn't understood as intended. Even though it may seem interactive, an e-mail chain is a series of one-way conversations linked together on the internet. Certainly, this is not the best way to form a discussion about important business issues. Further, unlike phone conversations or face-to-face meetings, emails may be forwarded. We lose control over the messages we email the moment we send them, and may have no idea who else will be privy to the information.

It's often said that time constraints make it impossible to speak with clients on the phone or see them in person. Clients, overburdened by their workloads, might not even afford agencies time for a visit or call. Yet, by being too busy to meet away from the computer, the client maybe doing a disservice to the product/service by inadvertently racking up unnecessary agency hours. "If progress keeps progressing," a colleague lamented, "we may get to a point where we don't get any work done at all."

There is a big difference between sharing expertise and order taking. When agencies limit their exposure in front of clients, they risk losing their place as experts in the room. E-mails and voice mails are information sharers, not conversations. Client business is rarely won through email, but it most certainly can be lost.

Some have perfected the art of the CYA (Cover Your Butt) emails. If we're using e-mail for self-protection, we need to look at a bigger client/agency or colleague issue. Fear of confrontation with or presenting to clients can also make email seem like a viable option. Instead, it can adversely affect the client/agency relationship.

"If you want to grow business", I was told by an agency veteran years ago, "you'd better walk your client's halls." In today's challenging economy, it's even more critical that we put in the leg work.

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