Thursday, April 12, 2007

When your phone doesn't ring, that'll be me

One of the most frustrating things for anyone in business is when your calls aren't returned. It's doubly frustrating when you're a shut-in (e.g. a telecommuter) and getting calls returned is the only way that you can move forward on your projects. I'm not sure what the answer to this vexing business problem is, but I've tried the following things:

1. I leave a specific, not too long, and clearly actionable phone message: "I need you to call me by five with your decision on the color for the banner." Not a vague statement about needing feedback on the design, one thing that the target can think about, come up with an answer to, and call you about.

2. I hassle the person with a consistent message through as many channels as possible. IM, phone, email, carrier pigeon, it's all fair game if you're not calling me and I really need your answer.

3. I don't escalate instantly. I try to give people a day or two to get back to me -- hey, we're all busy and sometimes you really don't know what the answer is without talking to someone else. It is so annoying when people go from 0 - 60 phone calls a day without giving you a chance to answer.

4. I try to work down the food chain before I work up. If I can't get someone, I'll try her staff members to see if maybe they have heard the answer, or they can tell me that she's in Tahiti for the week and won't be getting back to me. Going down the ladder rather than up is also a way of reducing the feeling of escalation -- nobody likes to have their boss called. I try not to do it unless I really feel like the person is avoiding me and jeopardizing the project.

Does any of it work? I am not sure, but at least if I try these things I feel like I've given it my best try. Sometimes I just make up a response in my own head and continue working based on that fantasy.

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