When Should You Pick Up the Phone?

Pick Up the Phone

Professionally, email has become many people’s favorite way of communicating—myself included. But it raises the question, when should you pick up the phone and call someone instead of just sending them an email?

I would argue that in most situations, email is the more convenient choice; however, I’ve come to learn that on some occasions, email is doing me, my prospect, my customer, or my colleague a disservice. There are pros and cons for using email and phone to facilitate a conversation.

The most important thing we must consider when making a choice is context: why you need to communicate, what you’re communicating, and whom you’re communicating with. Let’s look at email first. Here are a few business situations in which email will be your best choice:

  1. Quick questions that simply require a yes or no response.
  2. Follow-up correspondence when you don’t want to appear too aggressive or pushy. An email allows your prospect to answer at their convenience.
  3. When a written record of the correspondence is required. When dealing with a service issue or payment problem, documented written records are advantageous to have in the event that the issue escalates.
  4. When you need to provide someone with detailed or complex instructions that can be referred to in the future.

For anything that’s more complicated than what I just referenced, your best bet will be to pick up the phone and talk to someone. So here are a few situations that you must absolutely call:

  1. When you need to find out more information. It takes less effort for people to talk than to write. When we talk, we usually end up providing more information than when we’re writing a letter or email. So when you’re trying to dig deeper to find out more information about your prospect’s business—things they’re doing well, pain points, and people they’re looking to do business with—it’s absolutely critical that you call. You’ll get more details that way and some of those details would be left unsaid in emails may be the ones you really need. Also, when writing emails, our self-censorship kicks in, making your message sterile, leaving out the passion in your voice, the emphasis you place on certain details, and the importance of certain topics. When you talk, your words flow, your self-editor is more muted. Which means your prospect or client can pick up on what’s more important to you and the meaning behind your words.
  2. When you need to convey something that may be negative or sensitive in nature. Emails are notorious for their lack of empathy. When you need to give critical feedback, deliver a sensitive message like discussing possible lackluster performance of someone on your sales team, you absolutely must call and deliver that message personally over the phone or face to face.

Here are a few more things to consider when deciding between an email and a phone call, and why making the call may be your best choice:

  • Talking to a live person breeds trust and authenticity. It proves that you’re genuine, that the message you wish to convey isn’t just spam. And as we’ve learned time and time again, people do business with people they know, like, and trust. Frankly, it’s hard if not impossible to develop that strictly through email.
  • Lowering the risk of being misunderstood. Email lacks social cues like tone of voice or emotion or pauses, which can easily lead to your message being taken the wrong way. Remember: it takes a lot more effort to clear up a misunderstanding in an email than to take up the phone and prevent the confusion in the first place.

So in closing, here’s a simple rule of thumb on how to decide between sending an email and making a call: Anything you have to think about twice, anything you think might be sensitive, and anything that you think requires your relationship skills, pick up the phone. Phone calls typically provide more clarity, written communications only provide the words, the tone, nuances and emotions are missing. So the next time you’re faced with a decision of typing or dialing, think about what the context requires. When you do that, you’ll become a more effective communicator. And as a byproduct, produce better results in your business.

Will Adams

Will Adams

Will Adams is the GM for Small Business Services for GoSmallBiz.com. Will leads the company’s efforts in serving small business owners and their employees through consulting, software, education, employee training, and advocacy. Will is also the co-founder of a successful Software as a Service (SaaS) business that currently serves small museums and family offices throughout North America. In addition to his business interests, Will serves on the board of Atlanta Children’s Foundation, connecting individuals, organizations, and resources to meet the needs of children in foster care.