Answering the phone

Answering phone calls and emails

Dear DW,

I’m busy and I get hundreds of e-mails and dozens of calls a day. How quickly do I need to respond to them?




Dear Swamped,

First of all, even though e-mail has largely replaced the telephone, don’t put off returning business calls for more than 48 hours. It’s discourteous, puts you in a bad light, and can lead to missed opportunities.

To manage your time, return all calls twice a day instead of all day long. If you can’t talk long, inform the person and schedule a time when you can. If you have to leave a message, give the caller a day and time when you know you’ll be available to answer the phone. Offer the option of communicating by e-mail if you know that connecting via phone will be difficult.

It’s also okay to respond to a call with an e-mail telling the person you need to schedule a time to talk. Try not to get into content, unless you know the person well.

The same advice applies to  e-mail. Forty-eight  hours should be the maximum time it takes you to respond. Thirty-six hours is better. (E-mail time is like dog years: a little goes a very long way, and sometimes too long.)

If you receive a large volume of e-mails, get better about filtering the messages. Make sure you have spam guards, separate out your business e-mail address from your personal one, and sign up for e-zines and mailing lists only if they are critical to your business.

Take a week to track who is sending e-mail. Determine if these contacts are important or not, and inform them if you need to hear from them less frequently. Tell your colleagues to “cc” you or “reply all” with great discretion. If you have an assistant, ask that e-mails be screened.

These tips should help you respond in a timely way, a critical component of business. DW


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