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What is the acceptable amount of time to return a business phone call?

 

I do not think returning phone call messages are optional.

phoneMy process is to return business phone calls in an immediate fashion, and always within one business day. If details or information is needed, my response may take up to a few hours. If I expect the information I need to compile may take an extended period, I offer a courtesy call to acknowledge the request and provide an estimated timeframe. “Just to let you know I received your call and will have the information to you by end of day tomorrow.”

Sometimes travel or personal time may delay a response. It’s always best to personalize your outgoing voicemail to alert callers as to a potential wait.

It is also important to return calls, even if you may not think them important or relevant. If I receive a call from someone with whom I know I won’t do business, I still call him back so he can cross me off his list. If I don’t recognize the name, I do call back because it could be a referral and ultimately lead to a new relationship or project. Adversely, if I don’t respond to someone who was referred by a client, I could miss a new opportunity as well as tarnish the relationship with my existing client. Responding to inquiries can build your business as well as your reputation.

Just this past week, I left two voice messages with a vendor (as well as sent two emails) over six business days before I received a return call. In our five minute call, my questions were answered and the project on track. However, I was off put by this lack of business acumen, and am concerned about the upcoming work this company will perform. By not returning my call in a timely manner and causing me to follow up, they lowered my expectations.

On the other extreme, I worked with a man who believed all calls should be returned in two hours, no matter the time of day. He essentially erased any work/personal boundaries. People took advantage of his “open phone” policy and he ended up sleeping with his work phone on his bed stand because calls would come in from different time zones at all times of the day. He set the expectation he would respond no matter the time or no matter what he was doing.

Do you think returning phone calls is normal business etiquette? And how quickly do you respond?