Saturday, November 6, 2010

New line of communication

At work, I may call a customer without knowing who I need to talk to. Sometimes I have notes from coworkers or predecessors, extension numbers and names that are useful. Sometimes the notes are hopelessly out of date. Sometimes there are no notes. Regardless, after navigating voicemail systems and explaining myself to secretaries, I often meet a person I will work with over and over again. This was the case with customer A.

I have been at my current job for six years. In that time, my contact at customer A has answered his phone once. At first, he would call back to respond to the voice messages I left. A few years ago, he stopped returning my phone calls: instead, a coworker would bring me reply he had faxed over.

Taking this as a hint against voice messages, but not being too fond of faxes, I tried sending him an email. His email address was printing in the header of his fax. It bounced back to me: invalid address.

I sent him a fax with my email address. He replied, from a totally different email that what was printed on the fax. Success! In the time since then, I have come to rely on his quick and helpful replies to my email inquiries.

Last year, a coworker asked me to get some paperwork from customer A. "You're the only one who can get a hold of anybody there," I was told. I'm not sure how I developed this mystique among my coworkers; I was somewhat bemused. I made the contact as requested, and met a new person at customer A, one who handles paperwork.

She now emails me on a regular basis with questions. I get the impression that before acquiring my email address, she suffered these questions in silence. Certainly none of my coworkers seem to have any previous contact from her.

Last month, a person from customer A's accounting department emailed me. I put them in contact with our accounting person. How we could have done business with this company for decades without them knowing our correct accounting contact makes me wonder.

I am somewhat disturbed that so many of my coworkers and so many people at customer A seem unable or unwilling to communicate with each other over the phone. I am happy I have been able to improve the connection between our two companies with electronic communications. The whole experience leaves me with puzzled emotions, but has led me to one firm conclusion: email is a very powerful tool.