Thursday, May 17, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Phone Calls and Following Up Tips

"Hello! Could you give us some tips on how to deal with calls? Say when a client follows up something constantly, and you haven't had any instructions from your boss. Should I ask my boss or deal with it myself? Thanks."

Thank you for your question! I hope my answer will shed some light.

1) Ask your boss 3 times and then leave it in his court.

I have a rule where I will ask my boss for an answer or direction three times. I probably follow up every 2-3 days. On that third time, it's pretty evident, they are not ready to decide, too busy, or are purposely avoiding the person/situation, but won't tell you. So I state really nicely with a big smile on my face: Whenever you're ready, please let me know. Otherwise, I am taking it off my to do list for now. Or, tell me if you want me to ask you again in 2 weeks or a month.

2) You should follow up with the client first before he can follow up with you.

I also try to follow up with the client first by writing an email or leaving them a voicemail. Sometimes I have to follow up with them once a week for an entire month. I state specifics like: I didn't forget about finding an answer regarding the advertising account. I know you emailed/called me on May 5th at 3pm. Once I know more, I'll reach out to you. I will also explain if my boss was out of town for a week or two on business travel or vacation or explain the hold up in very generic or diplomatic terms. I also respond to email and calls within 24 hours if not within 1 hour. You don't want the client to feel as though you are avoiding them or dislike them. Just be honest on why you don't have an answer without throwing your boss under the bus. I don't know yet and I'm finding out is a perfectly acceptable answer.

3) Encourage them to reach out to you via email too and say you will notify them when you have more info.

To allay their fears that you somehow forgot about them say: Feel free to ping me in a week. This also placates people when you welcome them getting in touch with you. They feel bad to take you up on your offer most of the time. Once you allow them to keep in touch with you, they start to feel bad that they are constantly checking in with you when you've already been so good about trying to get their question answered and keeping them posted before they even have the chance to follow up. This is the part where you kill them with kindness and anticipate their move first.

4) Research the answer, but only to have the info ready to go when you get the green light from your boss to proceed.

Sometimes if I feel things are urgent, I do call around and research the answer if I know the issue is not overly sensitive or out of my domain/league. I do make it a point to emphasize those I am asking that I am asking JUST IN CASE or to get my ducks in a row, etc. And I tell them I will keep them posted if and when we decide to execute. During this phase, I also might leave out on who's behalf I am asking this way the client can't try to call someone else to get their answer or the dept I am asking doesn't accidentally try to be helpful and reach out to my client either. It's your job to manage the flow of information and that getting stuff done through the chain of command is followed.

5) There is a fine line between initiative and stepping on people's toes.

When being an executive assistant, there is a fine line between being a go getter and entering territory you should not be in. It's hard to tell the difference sometimes and it will take at least 2 years if not more to understand your boss and how/why they make decisions. In some cases, it is absolutely necessary to make an executive decision and beg for forgiveness later, but I'd keep those at a bare minimum in your career. I always err on being too helpful, aggressive, or treating things with urgency than not. It's much easier to train or ask someone to hold back a little than to try to motivate, ignite, and make them passionate about something. So when you take initiative make sure you aren't speaking out of line, taking over someone else's job, or failing to consider your boss or someone else's view point who has confidential information, backstory, a better grasp on office politics/red tape, or has new information that was decided without your knowledge 2 min ago.

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