Take A Message
Practice managers are often inundated with phone calls and emails from clients, vendors, team members, and solicitors.
It’s nearly impossible to answer and deal with each call or email in real time and it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed with a pile of messages on the desk or emails in the in-box. Today, practices have different message-processing options; everything from good ole paper and pen to intranet messaging programs. Dealing with messages as quickly as possible often provides more positive outcomes than slow or no responses. Failing to respond to messages in a timely manner can have a very expensive impact on practice relations.
Impact of Slow-No Response
Practice managers typically plan for productive days and are quite aware that “things” will arise and affect their itemized list of to-do’s. Phone calls and emails are included in some of those things that happen throughout the day and may take the manager further off their planned course. More often than not, phone calls and emails occur when the manager is in a meeting or off-premises and that’s where message management comes in.
We live in a time where most of us want immediate responses or action. The development of technology, such as mobile devices, has groomed us to expect immediate feedback. Failing to respond within an appropriate time, or at all, negatively impacts all relationships within a practice. Concerning client relations, The Online Customer Respect Study identified that 70 percent of consumers will take their business elsewhere if they don’t receive a timely response and associate the lack of response with a lack of respect. The study shows, “that customer respect does affect image and potential profitability.” A slow response may be associated with just being busy and a no response may be associated with a message going home in someone’s pocket.
Examples of messages and the impact of slow-no response:
Example: A team member calls in sick.
Impact: A slow or no response may result in a disruption of work schedule coverage.
Example: A client emails a concern about a recent visit.
Impact: A slow or no response may result in the client’s perception that the practice doesn’t care.
Example: A drug company vendor may call to discuss waiving a late payment fee due to non-receipt of timely payment.
Impact: A slow or no response may result in the late fee expense showing up on the next statement.
Example: A local magazine advertiser calls to discuss a marketing opportunity if immediate action is taken.
Impact: A slow or no response may result in continual calls until the marketer gets a yes or no answer.
This is how one practice manager dealt with the overwhelming in-coming messages in her practice:
Practice Manager: “I have to admit, I dreaded making the callbacks in my message box. I always assumed they would be ugly calls and result in screaming sessions or hang-ups, especially if they were from a client.”
Question: “How do you deal with your messages now?”
Practice Manager: “Actually, I try to deal with messages as soon as possible; I just take a breath and knock them out. One of the lessons I learned was the longer I put off my response, the more uncomfortable it was for both the person I was contacting as well as myself.”
Question: “Are you the only one who responds to all calls and e-messages?”
Practice Manager: “I realized I didn’t have to deal with all the calls and messages. I trained my receptionists to invite the client to share additional information with them instead of referring every call to me. It’s amazing how most of the calls didn’t require an intense conversation or investigation. I also have my lead receptionist check the email in-box several times a day as we do welcome clients to provide feedback via our website.”
Message management can, at times, be overwhelming. Consider the following C.A.L.L.S. Assessment to evaluate where your practice may need improvement:
C: Construct Message Channels
Does your practice manage messages only from phone calls or does your practice also engage in social media channels, i.e. emails, Facebook, or text messaging? It’s important to be mindful of all messaging channels in order to provide the appropriate amount of attention and sense of urgency.
If the practice welcomes feedback via their website, but only checks email once a month, client relations may be damaged.
A: Assess Messaging Map
Does your practice have one person who is managing all messages, i.e. the practice manager? Consider training more than one person to manage communication channels and messages as it is nearly impossible for one person (unless that is their exclusive responsibility) to expeditiously deal with all communication that comes in to the practice. Also, consider the message flow and the tools that will be used to document messages.
Perhaps the client who is asking for the manager only needs to know how much she paid for the last bag of dog food.
L: Log Results
Does your practice keep a log of how they dealt with certain situations and the results? Documenting how the practice deals with messages is a valuable tool. Consider keeping a log of “how we deal” with phone and e-messages.
This tool can be quite valuable when training team members as it increases their confidence in how they communicate in various situations; it also helps with the overall lessons learned.
L: Lessons Learned
Does your practice evaluate the effectiveness of responses? It’s one thing to document responses in a log, but it’s an even more powerful step to evaluate and discuss the lessons learned among the team.
Sharing experiences with team members helps to remind them how important effective and timely communication is, especially concerning client relations.
S: System Evaluation
Does your practice make necessary adjustments to the messaging system? Practice teams may respond to processes by saying, “Oh, that didn’t work”, okay, the next step is to identify what will work.
Perhaps responsibilities within the Messaging Map need to be shifted to other team members or the sense of urgency within the Message Channels need to be advanced to a higher priority.
In these very interesting times, having opportunities to connect builds and strengthens valuable relationships. The way in which a practice responds or doesn’t respond to messages can have such a viral effect on practice relations. Not every returned call or email will be an easy or comfortable experience, but dealing with messages in a timely manner will increase the chances of positive results. Most of the people who reach out for a response are grateful when they actually receive a response; they feel that the practice values their question or concern. Some of the most encouraging words a manager can hear when responding to a message is, “Thank you for your call” or “I’m really glad to hear from you”, this typically segues into a big exhale and a feeling of confidence that it pays to respond.
Barrett, D., J., Leadership Communication, 3rd Edition, 2011.
The Online Customer Respect Study, 2005; www.customerrespect.com.