How quickly do you respond to incoming customer questions? As fast as you should? What about social media responses? Or online customer complaints?
When it comes to answering complaints on social media, I spoke last week about the wisdom of setting a standard window of time for response, such as within 4-24 hours, and adhering to it consistently. If you arbitrarily jump on questions or complaints instantly in some cases, and later (or never) in others, customers may assume your delay is an attempt to stall or avoid answering, regardless of how you respond.
However, what should your company’s policy be for answering incoming web inquiries? Emails from existing customers? Emails from the boss?
Here’s the input of my friend and collaborator Russ Warner, CEO of ContentWatch. (Disclosure: ContentWatch currently has no business relationship with my agency; however we have formerly represented the firm for much of the past 9+ years.)
Warner points out that company cultures and sensitivities vary, but leaving any company’s office entirely behind at the end of the work day is nigh unto impossible these days. Although you may pack up and leave the building you work in, for most of us, thanks to our mobile devices, we’re still accessible and at least partially, if not entirely, checked in.
Nobody credible can give the excuse of being “out” anymore, because virtually all of us have smartphones with email and texting. Likewise, nobody credible can use the excuse that the files are on the PC at work anymore, because we can put anything we may need in the cloud or can carry our access on a tablet or mobile device.
In some respects it’s a Catch-22: If you don’t allow employees to use their own mobile devices for work, you will have to either stick with desktop computers or spend the money to provide them with company-paid devices. However if your organization relies on desktops at work, your employees will accomplish little work on-the-go, which puts you at risk of falling behind your competitors who are mobile.
With all these conditions in place, it important to clearly indicate to employees that you expect certain “standard response times.” That is, you need to be clear how long an employee may take to respond to an inquiry or question, whether by email or text, by others in the organization.
We all get emails and texts non-stop about urgent projects or nice-to-have questions or deliverables that your boss would like to be done. But are you engendering a culture of individuals who reply at midnight because nobody wants to be known as the person who didn’t reply?
Furthermore, the extra time worked has legal consequences for non-exempt employees. If a non-exempt employee works overtime, for example, she is entitled to overtime pay. But it’s cumbersome to track and document the time it takes to respond to extra emails or texts on evenings and weekends.
Workers who develop the habit of getting things done at odd hours of the day or night can also be problematic, as it limits contact between coworkers and eliminates the possibilities of quick, in-office resolutions.
While most companies have a formal or at least an informal policy about employees working outside of the office, most of us don’t yet have a policy for standard response times. This is an issue that needs to change if companies want to encourage and achieve more productivity, more effective communication and better morale.
Companies have widely varying expectations on response times to urgent issues or on how long it takes to get a “nice to have” issue or question resolved. These expectations are usually unwritten; however the violation of these “unwritten” rules can be dire.
If companies don’t set boundaries as to how long an employee may take to respond to work-related requests outside of work then every conscientious employee will feel the need to work a moderate to extreme level of unpaid overtime in their effort to satisfy the organization and boss. However, overworked workers become less productive. Organizations suffer when they rely on the work of chronically exhausted employees.
Furthermore, non-exempt employees must be paid for their work. Then there is also the issue of employees who are so distracted by non work-related material on their mobile devices they generally accomplish little to nothing at any time, which is a cause for frustration for the company’s high achievers.
What is the answer? According to Warner, it’s high time to create a formal and written policy on standard response time. Your policy should accomplish the following:
- To clarify expectations for after-hours work, rather than relying on the unspoken policy.
- To assist an employee outside the office on business travel to know how often to check in.
- To relieve the employee taking the infrequent vacation, so she can truly unwind (or not).
- To assist organizations in managing projects, overtime payments, and inter-office communication.
- To allow employees who tend to over-work to truly clock out when they leave the office without fear for their job if they fail to deliver immediately on the extra work, or risk being labeled and treated like a weakling or suck-up if they choose to comply.
Statistically, this policy is most likely still unspoken in your organization today. However it’s high time (and even past due) that you take the time to get your own policy determined, get it writing, and then distribute it to everyone you employ. The over achievers will greatly appreciate it. Low performers will know exactly where the line has been drawn. Best of all, managers will know exactly what to expect—and when–from them both.
What’s your organization’s policy for response time on both daytime and “off duty” work? Is it a good one? I welcome your thoughts.