And practice makes perfect!
Here are some day-to-day practices that may seem like small details—but are important ingredients in creating and maintaining great business relationships.
Update Your Voice-Mail Greeting Daily
People will notice that you change your voicemail daily and update your whereabouts. They will compliment you and feel that you care about the impression that you leave every day. Changing your greeting daily tells people that you have a fresh perspective, and you’re giving them up-to-date information. It shows that their call really is important to you. I know people who add quotes and anecdotes. (If you’re in financial services or another regulated industry, you’ll need to adhere to compliance guidelines and get a better understanding of what you can or cannot say via voicemail greeting.)
Return All Messages within 24 Hours or the Next Business Day
Try to return phone calls and emails within 24 hours. Or, if the message was left on a Friday or the day before a holiday, then return the message the next business day. And I mean all phone calls—even those from people you don’t know or people who are soliciting business. The exception to the 24 hour rule might be if you’re traveling internationally, in the midst of air travel, or on vacation. (Or happen to be in a submarine.) You like your calls to be returned! I establish my “back in 24” standard right on my voice-mail greeting. “Please leave a message and rely on me to return your call within 24 hours.” Then I do so, and people realize that I’m true to my word. You may not be able to solve a problem or follow through on something within 24 hours, but at least return the message and let them know that you got their voicemail (or email), that you’re working on it and that you will be back in touch by Friday or whenever. Sometimes, when I call someone their voicemail greeting says, “…please leave a message and I’ll call you at my earliest convenience.” That doesn’t leave me with the best impression. It suggests you’ll return my call when you get around to it. Is that really good enough?
Leave Your Phone Number Twice
When leaving your phone number as part of a voicemail message, repeat it. That way, the recipient of your message doesn’t have to play the message back to capture your phone number. They might be driving, reaching for a pen or you might speak quickly and they didn’t get your number down. I know I speak quickly. So I will mention my number at the beginning of the message, and then I’ll say, “I’ll leave you my number at the end of this message again.”
Send Handwritten Notes on a Regular Basis
I typically send out five handwritten postcards or regular cards out every day. That’s 25 a week, 100 a month. Yes, I lick a stamp (not really) and fill out an address on an envelope and stick it in a mailbox. (If you’re a Gen Y’er or Gen Z’er you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.) I get handwritten notes back or emails, and people think that it’s really thoughtful that I took the time to add a personal touch. Many times, my notes and postcards will get posted on the wall (an actual wall, not a fan page or homepage), whereas emails get deleted. With the volume of emails that are received daily, handwritten notes are remembered forever. When was the last time you received a handwritten note? Send someone a card to say thank you if they’ve done something to help you, or as a follow-up. Do it right now and see what happens!
Call or Email to Confirm All Scheduled Meetings a Day in Advance
The few times that I didn’t do so, I either got stood up or otherwise discovered that there had been a miscommunication. This is especially important if you’re traveling—just call or email to confirm the meeting because it makes both parties feel good. If the location or time needs to be changed, you can make the adjustment right then, and there’s no harm, foul or wasted trip.
Be 15 Minutes Early to All Meetings
People have a different perception of you if you’re always early to a meeting. It means that the meeting was so important to you that you made sure you were there in plenty of time. Also, it will give you a buffer if there’s construction or an accident, if you get lost or if life gets in the way. Too many people fail to do this. Of course, it you are running late, let the person you are meeting know as soon as possible. When I leave myself plenty of time to get to where I’m going, I feel less stressed and concerned about getting there. When I arrive early, I can relax, collect my thoughts and grab that cup of coffee. More importantly, I feel calm, collected, and prepared for my meeting.
Do Your Homework
Google the person you will be meeting with. People are flattered when you know a little bit about them and have taken the time to research their background. Before I meet with somebody, I’ll Google them and print their Web site, press release, or profile. As I’m reviewing them, I write on them with a red pen and highlighter. I jot down questions that I may have about the material and highlight sections that I want to bring up in the meeting. When I get to the meeting, I spread the pages out across the table to let the other person know that I’ve done my homework and that I’m really interested in some of the things that they are doing. Then I bounce some questions off of them. They are flattered that I went to such trouble. Talk about an impression!
Remember, your words and actions make people feel one of two ways – OK or not OK. Rarely is there an in-between. Some of your words or actions are unavoidable. But most of the time, we have complete control in our business practices (and personal ones too) over how we make people feel. Stay positive and upbeat in all of your communications while showcasing consideration and good manners.
You never know who you’ll be standing next to in that submarine!