I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

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Why reject people, not ignore them

Email message of no thanksSometimes in business you need to not accept someone. You can choose to actually reject them or you can just ignore them until they effectively go away.

Whether it’s someone who has applied for a job, sent you a guest blog post or given you a proposal, that person has put some time and energy into contacting you. And quite possibly has some emotional involvement, too.

Of course, I am not counting the obvious spam offers you get – spam doesn’t deserve much in the way of respect and certainly shouldn’t get a response (as tempting as it is often may be!)

Choosing your response

I think those people deserve the respect of being answered. No one likes to hear ‘no thanks’ but it’s better than hearing nothing and waiting for a response.

Do you remember applying for jobs and not getting a response? I hated putting in all that effort and then not being sure they had actually read my application if it wasn’t acknowledged.

Saying no can be done quickly and harshly without any thought for the other person’s feelings. Or with a little more effort you can be respectful and assertive, leaving the other person with their self-respect. Either way, it doesn’t really take that much to give an answer.

You can even have a stock rejection response on file to save time, if you must.

I prefered getting a standard letter than nothing back when I applied for jobs.

Rejecting does have a payoff

Aside from being the humane and decent thing to do, actually rejecting someone’s approach can benefit you as well.

For one thing, you aren’t damaging your own reputation. Offend enough people, or convince enough people are you too lazy to reply, and you may just find fewer people respect you and want to offer you guest posts or their time and expertise.

Sending a nice rejection maintains relationships. Just because you don’t want to use this guest post or don’t think Mary suits your current job position doesn’t mean those people can’t offer you something of value later on. Burning bridges by ignoring people just doesn’t seem like a wise move to me.

What other reasons are there for taking the time to say ‘no thanks’ to people?

Have you had good things come out of a ‘no thanks’ response?

Getting responses

If you take the time to write some content, I assume it is to get a response. So isn’t it worth taking a bit longer and making a response more likely?

This week I have received two messages that may have generated a nice response from me except for what I see laziness on the part of the writer.Messages transferred between computers

First was an unsolicited email from someone wanting some proofreading work from me. He used the contact form on my website but addressed it to “To whom it may concern”.

If you want a job, you need to impress your perspective employer – show some initiative and attention to detail, and tailor your approach to the employer. It is not hard to find my name on my site but he didn’t even bother. He also didn’t mention my business in any way, just what he wanted, and used a Gmail account instead of an email from his domain.

Second was a comment in my blog {names changed to protect the guilty or maybe just me!}:

I am Fred Nerk from XYZ Pty Ltd and I would like the contact details of your marketing manager to tell him about our forum next November Regards.

I know this was spam and he obviously hadn’t even read the post he was commenting on. But the same lesson applies – take the time to find someone’s name and understand their business before contacting them.

Even if you can’t be bothered doing your research, assuming all marketing managers are male is not a good option either.

I’m not employing someone (or buying someone’s product or service) who can’t be bothered finding my name on my site.

Would you?

Disagreeing with clients – the nice way!

If you work for clients, you will not always agree with how they want things done. Sometimes, it will just be a matter of personal choice so you stay quiet and do things their way. Other times, your professional experience and knowledge leads you to believe the client would be better off following your way.

So how do you tell a valued client that you disagree with their request?

Let’s take a simplified situation – the client asks for bright red and you think pale blue is a better option.

The first response to come to mind may be “Bright red won’t work so I’m going to use pale blue for you.”

However, the client is likely to be annoyed at being told they’re wrong and you’re making the decision. Result? They will dig their heels in and insist you use bright red without further discussion – or just find another supplier.

Another response may be “Pale blue is best and applies in 90% of cases” and just going ahead with pale blue. Taking control of the project like that shows no respect for your client and may just end your relationship.

Here are some better ways to approach your client:

  • Bright red would certainly attract attention! However, did you know that colour experts consider red to mean…?
  • Is there a particular reason you want it bright red?
  • I will do it in bright red, but first I wanted to make sure you know you have a choice. The alternative is pale blue, which has the advantages of …
  • I have found an example of bright red for you, and a pale blue example as a comparison. I think the pale blue works better because… What do you think of them both?
  • That’s an interesting thought – I would never have considered bright red for this project. To me, bright red doesn’t always work because…
  • Based on my experience, bright red is less effective than pale blue because… Would you like me to try both colours so you can see the difference?

If you handle it politely and with respect, your client will appreciate you speaking up and sharing your expertise – after all, that’s why they are using your services! You may still have to complete the project in bright red, but at least the client has made an informed decision and you have respected your professional opinion.

Have you had a supplier respectfully disagree with you which has led to a better result? Share your story in the comments area below.

Writing survey questions

Writing responses to questions in a formMy earlier post listed some examples of poor survey questions I have come across, so now here are some tips for making your survey questions effective…

  1. Know what you are preparing the survey for – and how you will use the results. By planning the results, you will know what questions you need answered and be sure to word them to get the relevant answers. For instance, if you want to know if clients prefer green or blue so you can change your corporate colours, you won’t bother asking “Do you like pink?”
  2. make each question clearly different – if someone has to read a question two or three times to see why it is different to a previous question, they are likely to  give up or answer incorrectly. Be particularly careful to not ask the positive and negative for the same point.
  3. don’t just copy the same responses for every question. Yes, it is reasonable to give responses such as excellent and poor to some questions, but not if you ask “did the book help you?” A bit of variety is more interesting and makes it more likely people will read each question properly.
  4. check questions follow on from one to the next, especially if you are using software that provides different questions depending on earlier responses. For example, if someone answers “I don’t have children” to question 1, question 2 really shouldn’t ask “how old are your children?”
  5. Always provide a response for everyone. It is frustrating for someone who can’t give any of your responses as their answer so always include every option or a way of indicating nothing applies.
  6. Make sure every question and provided response makes sense. That means read every question/response pair individually. For example, “was the presentation interesting?” works, “was the presentation informative?” works but “was the presentation expectations?” doesn’t work.
  7. every question must be simple and clear – if the question is too complicated you can’t expect useful results. Simplify questions by
    • using simple and short words as much as possible
    • divide a long question into two parts if possible
    • give responses to choose from rather than an open ended question
    • staying to the point – and keeping to your purpose
    • keeping all question short – it’s much easier to complicate 12 words than 6!
  8. Always use good grammar and spelling so people aren’t confused or distracted by your errors.
  9. Present your survey well so people will actually read and respond to your well written questions!

Ideally, prepare the questions and leave them for a couple of days. Then reread each question to make sure it makes sense and will get the answers you are after. Once you are sure the questions are workable, ask someone else (or a few someone elses) to answer the survey for you and provide feedback on questions they weren’t sure of.

A well written and prepared survey can be a very valuable tool for your business so it is worth putting the time and effort into making it as good as you possibly can.

Complaints response

I have often used bad examples of writing, so I thought it was time I acknowledged receiving a good email!

A little while ago, I noticed a discrepancy between an invoice and my bank statement so I sent a polite email to the supplier. I noted the problem and the resolution I wanted. The supplier replied to me email and I was impressed by the response.

The email was:

Hello Tash,

Thank you for your email. I understand you are concerned that, {stated my issue in their words}. I see that you would like {repeated my requested resolution}. Below, I have addressed your concern in detail.

And then went onto to answer my concern.

The email is polite and clearly shows they have read my complaint and are treating it seriously and respectfully. It started with my name and was obviously written by a real person in answer to my email – not just a standard response.

In fact, I think it makes a pretty good template for how to construct a complaint response! As a customer, I felt heard and respected, and my issue was dealt with.

So next time you have to answer a customer complaint, or even a customer query, remember the steps:

  1. use the person’s name
  2. restate their issue to show you are listening (or reading!)
  3. restate any resolutions they suggest
  4. answer the issue
  5. above all else, be polite and respectful

Happy writing!

Answering negative comments

Someone has posted something negative on your blog. You’ve decided to keep their comment live on the blog, so now you need to answer the comment with one of your own.

You could:

  • be negative or even abusive back
  • ignore the negative aspects of their comment
  • be upset and cry ‘unfair’
  • be extremely humble and apologetic
  • agree to disagree
  • agree with them in parts
  • agree with them and indicate how you will deal with the issue

So which is the best option?

Well, attacking back isn’t a good idea – it may help you feel better immediately, but it is unprofessional and will be remembered more than the original comment. It also doesn’t solve anything.

Ignoring the negative bits. If the comment is mostly ok and just has some negative bit, you may be able to just answer the main part of the comment and get away with it. But ignoring the negative part looks like you are avoiding it, doesn’t make the commenter feel heard, doesn’t help your business grow and doesn’t stop people believing the negative comment.

You may well feel upset by something in a comment, but posting in that way doesn’t look professional or constructive.

Humble is good and an apology where warranted is a must, but don’t go overboard with it. Being too apologetic and humble removes your credibility and is unlikely to earn you more clients. A simple “I’m sorry you feel that way,” “Sorry – I made a mistake” or “I think I mucked that up – let me try again” is usually enough.

If the comment is just negative because they disagree with you – that’s great! It is an opportunity for discussion (and isn’t that what a blog is for?) and for you to learn. You may never agree with the comment, but reading it and considering it may give you a new perspective.

A response that acknowledges the others person’s opinion shows respect and an open mind – it doesn’t mean you have to lie and agree with everything they write, just be polite and find a positive aspect to their opinion. You can respond with comments such as

  • “I can see where you are coming from but I still like my logo”
  • “That’s an interesting idea. Personally, I don’t like pumpkin but it would add great colour to the dish”
  • “I prefer brand X but it’s good to hear how it has worked for other people”
  • “You are probably right about the rules, but I still think this is safer”
  • “Mary thinks long domain names are great, I prefer short ones – what do you think?”
  • “I agree that Christmas preparations can start in July but I don’t like decorations in shops in October”
  • “I had never thought about it like that before.”
  • “I think you’re right – that article is too long. But it would be incomplete if I cut out the examples”

If the negative comment is actually constructive feedback, the best thing you can do is act on it. You may give an initial response in your blog thanking them for their feedback and noting that you are looking into the issue – and don’t forget to come back and post about the fix once it is in place. This is a powerful process. You will show you are listening to your readers/clients, you respect their opinions and you will admit mistakes in order to improve your service/products. The person making the comment will appreciate being heard and may turn into a supporter; other readers will admire and remember your willingness to change.

So the best option to respond to a negative comment partially depends on the nature of the comment. But always respond with respect in a polite way and acknowledge their point of view. Agree, disagree or make amends as the situation calls for.

Consider negative comments as a way of showing your professionalism and building true relationships with your blog readers and clients, and the comments won’t seem so difficult or painful anymore.