(Editor's Note: This post was a collaboration between WeddingIQ's co-editors Jennifer Reitmeyer and Kyle Bergner.)
In a creative field such as weddings, sometimes the most basic business skills are the ones we most need to sharpen. Today we're offering our five best practices for managing your phone and email communication.
Answer with a pleasant greeting. “Hello," "What’s up?" and "Hey" are greetings for family and friends. Something like "Hello, this is _______ and you’ve reached _______, how can I help you?" is a greeting for your business. Whether you pick up the phone yourself or outsource this task to an assistant or receptionist, create a greeting that everyone can use to sound professional. It doesn’t have to be super formal or overly cheery, but clients should get the same greeting every time they call.
Be consistent on all lines. We all have multiple forms of communication these days. Perhaps you have an office phone and you or your team also have cell phones. If you receive even one business call on a particular line, you need to have a professional greeting for both live answering and voicemail. Coach your team on the proper phone etiquette if needed. This will help greatly in reinforcing your brand.
Voicemail messages. There’s nothing worse than a super long voicemail greeting full of unnecessary information. (Well, maybe that computer voicemail message that just says you’ve reached a particular number.) The most important aspect of the voicemail greeting is to be polite and to reassure clients that they have, in fact, reached the correct business. Keep additional information brief and limit it to only one or two items, such as when you will return their call or another form of communication where you can be reached. Don’t forget to ask them to leave a message with their contact information.
Return calls in a timely manner. You don’t have to be at the beck and call of every client (especially when they call late at night or during an event) but you do need to get back to them in a reasonable time frame. If you don’t like answering the phone, hire someone to do this in the form of an individual or a service. If that’s not an option, consider choosing a time of day (or several times throughout the day, depending on call volume) and return all calls at once. This will help cut down on interruptions throughout the work day.
Consider using email where possible. We live in a digital age, when many (if not most) people prefer email communication over the telephone. It allows people to correspond at a time that's convenient for them, and provides automatic backup of the details of your conversation. If you're contacting someone about something non-urgent, need to provide detailed information but don't need a lot of back-and-forth interaction, or your issue is serious enough that you want to ensure everything is covered in writing, email may be a better option.
Be concise. Everyone you email is busy. Clients are planning their wedding while also dealing with their careers, family obligations and everything else that was part of their lives before they got engaged. Fellow vendors, like you, are juggling a ton of events. It only makes sense to keep your emails as simple and straightforward as possible, so that your recipients don't have to wade through a bunch of nonsense to get the real message. (The need for brevity applies to email signatures, too - include your contact information, of course, and maybe your business tagline and/or your major accolades, but don't go overboard. If someone is interested in all of your social media accounts, your blog, and your life story, they'll probably just go to your website.)
Be thorough. As important as it is to be succinct, it's also important that you take the time to ensure that all questions are answered and all details are addressed. This eliminates the need for an endless back-and-forth. Also, have you attached whatever document you may have referenced? (We all forget this sometimes - embarrassing.) Spending 10 seconds skimming an email reply before clicking send can save you some hassle later.
Professionalism matters. We've received some email messages that were mind-boggling in their incoherence. Major spelling errors, grammatical butchery, no regard whatsoever to formatting. And, on the topic of formatting, consider sticking with a basic font, color and size in your messages - no one wants to read 14-point, bubblegum pink Comic Sans. We're professional business owners, and our emails should reflect that.
Don't go crazy with auto-responders. We've noticed a trend of business owners using auto-responders for every email message they receive, and it's really not necessary. It may seem like you're reassuring people their message was received, but honestly, unless you're going to do something with that message (like reply to it in a normal amount of time), does it really matter? Auto-responses only clutter people's inboxes, and are best left to times when you legitimately can't check and respond personally to emails within a reasonable timeframe, such as when you're on vacation or out on sabbatical. On that same note, please make sure you turn off your auto-responder as soon as you're back to work! Nothing says "lack of attention to detail" like an auto-responder that's still informing people of last week's vacation.
Keep your promises. If you've told someone in an email that you'll do something, do it. If you've told them you'd get back to them at a particular time, get back to them. Remember that email communication creates a permanent, trackable "paper chain" of every promise you've made, so if you value your professional relationships and reputation, you'll make those promises a priority. (Come to think of it, the same advice applies for promises in any form, doesn't it?)
All of this may sound simple, but the simplest things can often be overlooked when we're busy. Still, shaping up your phone and email communication skills can only do good things for your business.