Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Client Communications - Constantly Evolving


Client communication is critical to my business success. I'm constantly juggling and multitasking. Social media is both a blessing and a bother.



Simpler Times
My Web design business launched in the fall of 2001. Back then, face to face meetings, emails and phone calls were the ways I communicated with customers (sorry, couldn't do the pager on belt thing).

How things have changed
With the explosion of mobile phones and social media, I now have customers contacting me via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Trying to keep up with the various incoming messages from all these sources has become a challenge.

Time to talk
Communication is critical to business success, but it can be a real time vacuum.  As a small business owner, I constantly struggle to juggle the various aspects of running the business. Things like work flow, cash flow, and trying to grow.  I need to be able to respond quickly and concisely to the multitudinous customer inquiries I receive.

Email to the core
My preference has always been email because I like to have a "paper trail".  I also like the ability to respond at any time (even 2 am on a Friday night, I'm ashamed to admit).  I use Outlook and Gmail with synced calendars, this allows me to use the best of both tools.  Priority flags and reminders are my virtual post-it notes.

Google Voice - A nice choice
The "Swiss army knife" of small business communication tools?
  • It's free
  • Local phone number
  • Call forwarding / call screening / conference
  • Voice to email and/or SMS

Help Desk - Scalable and Professional
I have implemented an online help desk (Zendesk) to help manage projects, changes and technical support issues.
  • Web based
  • 24/7
  • Tracking
  • Integrated with email
From my experience, customers seem to resist the "lengthy" ticket creation process (sarcasm).

SMS / Texting
Not new, but it's still very convenient when possible.
  • Quick
  • Mobile
Integration is a problem, although Google contacts and Voice play nicely together.  No way to push events to G calendar (app idea?), I also find that messages can get buried quickly. And land lines are land mines.  Accidentally trying to send a text to a land line and you get the dreaded 25 cent extra charge message.  I've never found the courage to do it.  Damn, I actually have to call the customer back.

Social Media - Lovin' G+, Facebook not so much
Keeping pace with evergreen social network landscape is fun but challenging.
  • Highly interactive
  • Non intrusive (Turn the alerts off - gasp!)
  • Hooks into help desk
Any of these tools can be a barrier for non technical customers.  I also have privacy concerns. Accidentally posting a reply that's set to public versus private.  The equivalent of "reply all" if you will.

My quest for the ultimate solution continues...
No matter what I have in-place, it will never please everyone, myself included.  Clients demand 24/7 accessibility and instant response.  Spam blockers, forgotten passwords, playing phone tag... all barriers to effective streamlined communication.

I look back fondly on the "olden days".  Before smartphones and social media enveloped my every waking minute.  And I had to walk uphill both ways to school. :-)

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