Tuesday, February 22, 2011

eMail is Hurting Us

I guess I am old fashioned.  I like to speak to my candidates.  I like to call about opportunities.  I call with feedback.  I call to give bad news.  I call to make offers.  Ironically, in return, if I now receive eight or ten calls a day, that is a lot.  People just don’t use the phone anymore.  Everything has become email.

Clients give me job orders through email.  Clients ask me to extend offers through emails.  Candidates get rejections from companies over the internet.  The problem with all this is that it is so impersonal and there is little opportunity to ask questions or have a dialog.  There is certainly no nuance in an email.  Emails prevent real relationships from forming.

I remember a few years ago receiving an email with a job order from an agency I had never done business with.  It was located in the L,A.area.  The email was only one or two sentences requesting that we fill a job.  It told me the title, the account and the salary level.  It told me what they would pay me.  That was it. Truthfully, there wasn’t enough information to actually conduct a search or for me to sell candidates about the job or the agency.  I emailed back and asked a bunch of questions, including the contact information and the title of the person giving me the assignment.  I also asked for them to sign a standard recruiting agreement.  They told me that they were too busy but if I was interested I should just send candidates.  Of course I refused.  Their response, via email, was that other recruiters were not as demanding as I was.

This brings me to agency/client relationships.  Emails are cool, aloof and impersonal.  Clients send copy changes via email.  They send major changes of direction via email.  They do this because there is no opportunity for discussion or dialog.  Agency's have to insist on personal contact for these kinds of communications.

It is very hard to build trust and loyalty through internet connections.  These days, Account people, for the most part, rarely have lunch with their clients.  Because entertaining is reserved only for senior executives; most account managers don’t get to know their clients as people.  I would venture a guess that there are many account people – at all levels of seniority – who actually don't speak to their clients on a daily basis; most of their contact is by email.  In fairness, the email problem often happens by the client’s choice – they are frequently too busy to talk to their agencies and emails are expedient and prevent discussion..  Account managers must insist on establishing a personal relationship with their counterparts or the total client/agency relationship cannot progress to a point where there is mutual trust and empathy.  

We all know that nothing takes the place of a good in-person conversation.  If that can’t be done, than a phone call is second best. 

I wonder how many account executives have never met their out of town clients.  I know that they mostly communicate electronically.  At least with a phone call, one can establish a personal relationship.  But it is hard to establish a personal relationship over the internet. – one cannot really discuss family or weekend activities  through emails.  I am guessing most client and agency people don’t share Facebook or Twitter.

It is important to understand each other as people.

I know that there are people who work at the same company who don’t know each.  Their communication is solely over the internet. I wonder how many of you have ever gone and introduced yourselves to the support people you work with.  It is easier to email than to go and talk to someone.

A couple of years ago I had this very conversation with Robin Koval, President of the Kaplan Thaler Group.  She told me a wonderful story.  In 2008 she established an “email diet day”.  She had noticed how quiet it was at the agency and it bothered her.  So she declared a non-email day, excluding clients, of course.  Everyone agreed not to use email for an entire day. The result was that people actually talked to each other.  People were scurrying around and visiting.  Briefings were held in person.  Discussions were had.  Everyone loved it.  And the result is that people got to know each other and subsequently worked differently.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love email.  It has speeded up communication and expedited a lot of what all of us do.  Electronic communication is right much of the time, but not always.  The truth is that a couple of minutes on the phone can actually increase efficiency.

If agencies want to improve their client relationships, it is time to get personal again and go visit and call.  It will surely help.


  1. This is so true. Its funny / sad how the tremendous workload of the modern era has put an appreciation for basic human relations into serious remission.

  2. Paul, this is an outstanding entry. More than anything, I think digital communications is at the root of the declining service business category.

    I will call you to talk about it more.


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