Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Toxic Email Replies that Hurt Your Business

Into every business, a series of problems will fall.  HOW business owners and service teams deal with problems when they arise is often MORE important than the problems and solutions themselves.  Let's look at some common creative business owner replies that lead to toxic client interactions, resentment, and lack of referrals for service businesses:

Client Email Example: "Hi, Just checking in on my project progress... can you give an update?"

In the client's mind, this is an innocent email that helps them understand where everything is in the process, what they may need to be aware of or how they may need to manage their schedule and expectations moving forward.  However, if a business owner is mired in stress, dealing with other difficulties, or feeling guilty about not making enough progress on a project, they may feel defensive and use one of the toxic email replies below that end up causing more harm to their client relationship, potential referrals, and future business success.

1. Business Owner Reply: "I'm sorry I was really busy on another project"

How client feels inside:
Well, thanks for letting me know you have another client who is more important and gets higher project priority than I do.  Glad to know my project is being put on the back burner while you deal with other people- not.
Client's actual email reply:
"I understand, thanks for letting me know.  When do you think we can sync up again?"

2. Business Owner Reply: "Life has been really hectic lately"

How client feels inside:
Uh oh, if life is so hectic that he needs to say something, does this mean my project is going to be delayed or given less attention?  Does he have the resources to manage life and business right now?
Client's actual email reply:
"I'm sorry to hear things aren't going well, I really hope things get better soon!"

3. Business Owner Reply: "A client/family member had an emergency"

How client feels inside:
I wonder what kind of emergency?  How long does it take to fix emergencies?  Is this going to delay my project?  Does this mean my project and deadlines are less important because they aren't emergencies?  What if I have an emergency?
Client's actual email reply:
"Oh no!  I hope everything is OK!  Let me know when you can chat again."

What's the BEST reply a business owner can give instead?

Best Business Owner Reply:
"Thank you for checking in!  I'd love to connect over the phone or zoom so we can make sure we're both on the same page for the timing ahead.  Which of the times below will work for you to sync up over the phone and talk about the next steps?
4/4  Monday 4pm
4/6 Wednesday 10am
4/7 Thursday  2pm"

The important ingredients of this reply are:
  1. Gratitude that makes the client feel seen and acknowledges their desire for an update.
  2. Affirmation of desire to work with client and move the project forward.
  3. Specific, detailed, date and time calendar options that give the business owner control of when they can offer headspace and time to focus on communication with client, to help the client manage the time until they feel like they will have undivided attention.
By keeping the response simple, light, and free of outside drama or issues, the business retains a high service standard without causing their client any alarms or insecurities about the business owner's ability to do or complete the work.  When a business engages the client in drama by sharing personal or client issues that don't have anything to do with the client's project, it creates a sense of doubt and concern about whether or not a project will be completed.  This creates a snowball of more fears and concerns that span not just one client project, but all projects the business is currently managing, which can lead to even more drama and toxic gossip that ends up hurting a business in the long run.

So, even if you're experiencing drama or issues that feel out of control in your business or life, save as many business relationships as you can by not spreading the drama or problems around your business.  It may make the difference between one client relationship blowing up and ten client relationships blowing up.  Minimize the damage by minimizing the spread of drama.

Anne Ruthmann helps creatives find smarter solutions to common business problems as a Creative Business Strategist and author of the Pricing Workbook for Creatives.  Her wisdom is steeped in the experience of managing her own creative businesses since 2004.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

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