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E-Danger: The Risks of Relying Solely on Email for Client Contact

E-Danger

It’s an email world. Once upon a time, we wrote letters to clients, or held lengthy phone conversations, or sat in regular meetings to discuss ongoing business. Now, with the compression of our work schedules, agency personnel and clients have become increasingly reliant on email or even texting for daily business communications.

This over-reliance on digital, remote communication is a concern. We remember when account service was all about parking yourself in the client’s office on a regular basis. This demonstrated a willingness to be at the client’s service, 24-7. You were on site and on hand to answer questions, provide updates, pick up proofs… and grab new projects.

Technology has seriously altered the account service methodology. Now we send ever-more-terse messages back and forth between agency and client. They are very busy; so are we. Somehow it is simpler to tap out a few lines of copy and shoot it over to the client’s email inbox or text chain than to actually place a phone call. As for in-person service calls, they seem to be a fast-receding remnant of an archaic system of client service.

This way danger lies.

E-convenience comes at too high a cost. Impersonal, often-brusque digital messages can erode client relations. Depending on technology to convey your concern and care for a client account is tantamount to inviting your competitors to take your chair. Just because you send a “Hey, how ya doin’?” email every day does not mean that the client perceives you as a vital factor in his company’s success and future growth. The human touch is missing. And without that human interaction, all sense of intimacy—in fact, the very glue of an ongoing agency-client relationship—disappears.

Face time is still all-important to building relationships. Email cannot convey your client’s momentary hesitation over a creative concept, or allow you to hear that certain tone of voice that tells you how important a new project is to the Big Boss. There is no body language to help you read between the lines. You cannot judge whether your client is nervous, stressed out or just impatient to leave for an overdue holiday. We haven't yet heard that the Apple Watch has achieved Dick-Tracy-style two-way video communications; we’re nearly there. Until then, face-to-face is the best way to go. Email or texting just doesn’t cut it.

You can’t develop or take advantage of “good chemistry,” either. There is no chemistry in an email message. There is no personality at all. Even a phone call is superior to email in this respect. At least your voice provides intonation and inflection to dress up a message and make it more personal.

We can’t even imagine emailing a client with that old stand-by of in-person conversation starters, “How’s business?” What a client can say face-to-face (and incidentally, off-the-record) will probably never be committed to an e-message, not in this age of corporate security where companies routinely read employee email. This means emailing “How’s business?” will likely provide no true inside information, leaving you with no clear understanding of your client’s business from their perspective.

And what of the dangers inherent in proofreading and approval via email? Just because email is a technological wonder does not mean that the people using it have suddenly become infallible, more reliable or more truthful. Clients are busy; they don’t always do what they say they did. Your client skimmed the copy you sent her to proofread, or failed to get sign-off from her tech people on the sell-sheet specifications. No email will tell you the job was done half-heartedly. Do you really feel comfortable taking digital approvals on faith? Look at how vulnerable that makes you and your agency should errors occur.  Allow us to pin this target on your back…

Don’t even get us started on how email can erode an agency’s professional image. Too-casual language, poor grammar and spelling, and inappropriate jokes or humor all combine to create a bad impression of professional standards at your agency.

Email is immensely convenient—and pervasive—but it is a tool best used with care in client service. And while teleconferencing is a possible alternative, it is still “remote” communication; like most digital channels, it allows for distractions less possible in a face-to-face meeting.

Communication Protocols

Establish agency procedures for email use, in fact, for all remote communication for any agency personnel who directly contact clients.

Yes, send clients regular emails to set or confirm non-urgent appointments, provide business news of interest, and confirm that messages/materials were sent or received.  Email is also good for sending copies of CCRs and other routine documentation of the agency-client relationship. (But call to confirm receipt of critical documents.)

“Regular” contact does not necessarily mean every day; don’t be a pest. Use the phone to follow up on client emails, discuss pending projects, or just remind the client “I am here” with the sound of a human voice. Write an occasional letter; snail-mail still has value, and impact. By all means, visit in-person as often as seems necessary. You may want to schedule a weekly meeting. This is especially effective with retainer clients.

Send proofs via email, but pick up revisions in person! This enables you to clarify notations, check with other client personnel on questions, and log some “you’re important to us” face time. Such visits also allow you to make contact with other client departments, with the potential for new projects or assignments.

If clients are email reliant, check your email several times a day. And respond promptly, if only to say, “I’ll check on that and call with an answer by 4:00.”

NEVER deal with trouble via email. Pick up the phone or get your tail to the client’s office immediately. Email is too open to misinterpretation, and can seem disinterested. Encourage the client to phone you should problems arise, in case you are out of the office or unable to check your email for several hours. Make sure your receptionist forwards urgent calls to your mobile phone, and supplies important clients with your mobile number so they can reach you directly at any time.

DO NOT RELY EXCLUSIVELY ON EMAIL TO SERVICE A CLIENT. If that is your idea of account service, you might as well kiss that account goodbye right now.

Technology enables agencies to keep personnel in their seats rather than on the streets making sales calls or running errands. But for client service, use email and texting in moderation. Used too frequently or incorrectly, email can erode client relationships and leave the door open to competitors who knock on client doors in person.

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