When professionals don’t answer your emails
September 18, 2019 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I have recently had a number of very frustrating interactions with some bodywork professionals (think athletic trainers, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and anyone else who has their own solo practice and typically doesn’t take insurance). They just don’t answer their emails or pick up the phone, and it’s driving me bananas. How do?

This is in the US. Both examples are from the SF/Bay Area, but I’m also wondering if people elsewhere (especially urban/suburban East Coast) have different opinions.

One person, who I see semi-regularly and I’ve communicated with by email before, ignored 2 emails that I sent a few days apart saying “Hey, our last appointment left me worse off than before, I need your help to fix this.” Then I tried calling him on two different days - he didn’t pick up. Finally I texted him (now 2 weeks after my first email saying I needed help), he did answer, and said he had been busy with a house move, and that he doesn’t answer phone calls from numbers he doesn’t recognize unless they leave a voicemail. He does list both his email and his phone number on his business card. He doesn’t have a receptionist.

Another person, who I’ve seen once and also have communicated with by email before, ignored 3 followup emails from our original email thread where a mutual friend introduced us. I asked the mutual friend to check in with him - he says he didn’t get any emails from me, besides the original introduction. I haven’t tried calling this person.

This behavior overall is baffling and frustrating to me. It’s one thing to flake on plans with a friend, but these are professionals who charge good money for their work. The first person seems to prefer text, which I find strange as a method of communication with a professional. In my mind, texting is for friends and family. The second person I have no idea, and I don’t know if I should try a different method or assume he just doesn’t want me as a client and is ignoring me to accomplish that goal.

What do you do when a professional ignores your communications? What are the standard methods (email, call, voicemail, text, other) in 2019 for people who don’t have admin staff?
posted by danceswithlight to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It definitely feels weird to type this, but i text(ed) with my (then) physical therapist. It definitely sounds a bit weird but it worked for us. Like your folks he was a sole operator (well he co-ran the business w another PT, but didnt have "staff").

i think some of this is generational, but honestly email is a nightmare in a lot of contexts, with too much signal-to-noise.

you are fully entitled to be annoyed by it and seek another practitioner with whom you communicate better.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:26 PM on September 18, 2019

Basically your choices are "accept flaky communication as a cost of doing business with this person whose work you otherwise appreciate" or "find a different provider who communicates in a way that you're more comfortable with." And, of course, don't keep emailing someone who never responds to emails (you can even put a reminder in your email contacts, like changing someone's name to "Joe Massage Therapist Text Him Instead").

I think a lot of solo practitioners go into business because they enjoy their core practice, but they don't enjoy (and are often terrible at) the actual *business* part of it. It seems obvious that they ought to outsource the phone-answering and appointment-making to someone else (an employee or a service), but either their margins are too tight for them to be able to afford it, or they're being penny-wise and pound-foolish (or both).

I do think your feelings about text being only for friends/family may be becoming a bit outdated; that's historically been the way I use text, but I'm finding that more and more people are preferring text for business (my appliance repair guy, even).
posted by mskyle at 1:26 PM on September 18, 2019 [20 favorites]

If people you want to give money to ignore you or are not organised enough to keep up with their business communications that just means they don’t get your money. Find somebody who is able to maintain a level of communication you expect.

As to what is normal, I work in a large professional services firm but some of my clients end up texting me. I try to ignore that and connect with them using my preferred methods. I also have various colleagues who use text or WhatsApp with me including various team WhatsApp groups. These are people I don’t really socialise with outside work but I am more open to that as we tend to be fairly informal internally. But I would prefer to avoid that as I only have one phone and can’t block them easily without blocking notifications i would like to get.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:26 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

If a service provider doesn't respond to my communications (because we don't know for sure they're ignoring them), I find a different service provider. In this full employment economy, there are some people who just don't need my business. Maybe it is because they have a full schedule, maybe it is because my property is a longer drive or someone else pays better or they find me to be a challenging client for X reason (habitually late, always talks about your ex, smells like smoke), I just find someone else.

Very few people I know pick up phone calls from unknown numbers - nearly every one is spam or a scam. I text most of my service providers including a reminder to the flakey ones "Hey Flake, looking forward to seeing you Wednesday at 3pm to herd my nerfs".
posted by arnicae at 1:29 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think text is becoming the standard for anyone where speed of contact matters, including professionals. I assume everyone else's phone is as unusable as mine is for incoming purposes due to junk calls; and email boxes are flooded with crap too and take hours to dig through.

That said, I use "do they get back to me reliably" as my first selection criterion when choosing any professional except for, like, rare-specialty medical experts.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:29 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

"I think text is becoming the standard for anyone where speed of contact matters, including professionals."
I agree with this. I am an LMT and my boss is an OT and we both text patients about scheduling, at home exercise/self-care, resources we want them to read etc. We also are subtenants of a larger physical therapy office that has a front desk staff though, so you can find solo practitioners who do it that way as well, there's just not as many of us.
posted by zdravo at 1:34 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's a Seinfeld episode about this, where a massage therapist ignores Jerry's attempts to schedule an appointment.

It sounds to me, especially with the first person, that their practice has outgrown their ability to manage it. The first person, without a receptionist or free time at home, has to do a lot of administrative work. If they're also doing a lot of professional work, the admin stuff can slip, because answering emails and calling people back doesn't bring in cash (at least not immediately). The second person is harder to get a read on, because there's just not a lot of information. Maybe their email client sorted your email into the junk folder or something. Maybe try a second means of contact before writing them off?

I don't see anything unusual with ignoring phone calls that don't leave a message, especially in a professional context. If a number that's not in my contacts calls me and doesn't leave a message, that's a strong sign that it's not a real number.

Texting seems informal to me, but if these are younger people (in their 20s), it's all they've ever known.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:36 PM on September 18, 2019

Count me as another person who was surprised but is now accustomed at the rise of texting for business purposes. My landlord texts me. The repair person texts me. The restaurant waiting list texts me (via Yelp). The pharmacy texts me. The library texts me. Automated texts from larger institutions are more normal but I think sole proprietors have also switched.

That said, the person should say "text preferred" on their business card. I mean Craigslist sellers specify the preferred mode of communication. Now when I give out my phone # I tell people that I'm not good at picking up the phone and please text me. I'm in my early 40s, so kinda on the cusp for the switch from phone as a calling device to texting device.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:38 PM on September 18, 2019

I text my therapist to make appointments, she has a busy practice where she's seeing clients back-to-back all day and this way I'm a) avoiding talking on the phone, yay, and b) letting her respond to me when she has time, so I don't feel like I'm being invasive or worrying about catching her in between clients, and I like being able to communicate clearly when I'm available and do a double check before texting back to confirm. My hair salon also texts me.

Presumably email is the same but I think text can be better at getting an immediate response.

If someone is being flaky but comes highly recommended I'd give them a call with a clear message/request for contact and if no response within a week would look elsewhere. It's not unheard of for people with their own websites with unique email addresses/clients to have email issues such that they're missing emails, for certain types of work I count it as a mark against them (like if they are a tech freelancer they should be on top of that), if they are a body worker I don't hold it against them because someone might have set it up incorrectly for them.
posted by lafemma at 1:41 PM on September 18, 2019

Why didn't you leave a message when you called the first person?

In my mind, texting is for friends and family.

This might be where you need to adjust. These folks probably have one number that is personal and professional, and it's for the phone they carry with them all the time. Also they probably have fewer boundaries between work and non-work time because they are in a business with variable hours.

I have texted with my hair stylist (when running late, on both sides), my aesthetician, my therapist, and my personal trainer. They aren't all young, either; my therapist is in her 60s. This was all work-related, usually about a changing appointment.

I hate email with a passion. I would much rather get a text if it was important.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:50 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, I would also presume that if someone is being non-responsive, they aren't looking for my business. I reached out to a financial advisor a few times via email and her website contact info, and when I didn't hear back, I moved on.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:51 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Why didn't you leave a message when you called the first person?

Yeah, no. Voicemail is a crime against humanity.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I agree that texting is becoming the norm for people who work for themselves, as it is a channel they can access easily anytime/anywhere. Remember that these people aren't marketing or customer support experts, and they are going to put most of their energy and brain power into doing their craft rather than managing professional communications. I have found it is best to ask what their preferred mode of communication is, and stick with that rather than make them use your preference. I know, as a paying customer it may feel weird but it is what it is.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:59 PM on September 18, 2019

Yeah, no. Voicemail is a crime against humanity.

I agree! But this person wasn't getting a response via email and didn't want to text. The other person later also specifically said they would have responded to a voicemail. If you aren't hearing back from someone via one method, it's worth trying another if it's important.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:04 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

both my old trainer and and current therapist and current massage therapist are text only. these are sole operators doing 100% of the business work and the work-work. the communication needs to be as easy and seamless as possible for them these days.

if this were a professional doctor's office i would expect a bit different, but with the types of professionals you are talking about, it's (in my experience, in the 2010s, not so much earlier) the communication is more casual.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:19 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think I can speak to this a little; I'm a massage therapist with a high client load.

I get hundreds of emails. If you email me, I may not see your email in a reasonable time frame. Sending me time-sensitive emails is an exercise in futility. I can't check emails while I'm massaging people, and I believe I am entitled to spend the couple of hours I have at night after work on myself; I didn't get into this profession because I wanted to take work home with me or be on 24/7.

I typically sit down and review my email inbox once per week, on my "day off", while I'm doing the bulk of my admin work. I have an email inbox because it's a professional neccesity- it doesn't look right not to have one- but unless I'm actively expecting a specific communication, email is basically a useless way to try and contact me.

If someone calls me while I'm in session, I can't answer the phone. If someone calls me in between sessions, I am unlikely to be able to answer the phone; if I can, I won't have time to have a useful conversation with you; I am in the middle of doing other parts of my job. If someone calls me during my time off and I don't recognise the number, they could be anyone. I'm not answering. You NEED to leave me a clear message. That is why I pay for voicemail. I will listen to your message immediately and call right back if I can. Fortunately for me, I have reception staff taking care of the majority of this for me; not everyone does.

If you text me, I can typically answer within the hour and I'll usually answer even if I'm off living my life, because text isn't intrusive, it's quick, and I probably have all the info I need in the text - if I can't resolve your issue, then at least I can respond with a timeline.

Lots of people in my world communicate with clients via text- not the majority, but a lot. It's very common. I understand why you are hesitant about this; I was at first; but SMS is the new face of professionalism.
posted by windykites at 2:25 PM on September 18, 2019 [13 favorites]

I am finding that email is the least likely way to communicate with any kind of mobile professional anymore, where everything is getting done by phone between work sessions. Everyone gets voicemails transcribed to text now, so it's either that or directly texting.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:27 PM on September 18, 2019

I agree that texting is the #1 communication style for so many people nowadays -- including between me (in my 50s) and my bodywork professional (early 30s). Sometimes when I have more detailed info I need to share, I text him, saying: "I just emailed you," to make sure he sees it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:35 PM on September 18, 2019

When trying to schedule an appointment with a medical professional recently and receiving no response, I gave up and found someone else. This may be more difficult to deal with if you don't live in a large city, as may be the case for you in Vermont.

Texting is my default form of communication with most people who've got small businesses (plumbers, maintenance people, trainers, etc.) as well as landlords. It's also frequently how I communicate with coworkers and many other work-related contacts. This has been the case for a long time in the US and in other countries.

There are definitely in-depth conversations that sometimes need to happen or a digital 'paper trail' that should be kept, so calling and email aren't completely dead, but I try to keep those to a minimum. Hardly anyone listens to voicemail (for many people it just gets transcribed to text anyway) and a lot of people really don't like email or find it cumbersome.
posted by theory at 2:52 PM on September 18, 2019

Looking through my recent text conversations... I'm currently texting with my room mates, my room mate's mom, my IVIG infusion nurse, the receptionist of my pool guy, my general contractor on a renovation, the carpenter who works for my contractor, my landscaper (who really just comes to spray for mosquitoes and ticks), my boss, and the people I adopted my dog from.

None of that seems weird to me - that's just how people communicate these days. Most of the business people I tend to text with seem to fall into the "small business" arena, but there are definitely exceptions to that rule. My nurse, for instance, works for a huge pharma company I never talk to; I just talk to her.

I think it's just normal life these days. I also think a lot of small business owner/operators are kind of terrible at getting back to people in general, so you kind of need to meet them where they live, so to speak, if you want to get any traction. It sucks, but it's a matter of priorities. Ideally you can find someone who's great at their job AND great at the "hustle" of getting/maintaining clients. But sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal with bad communication for good services.
posted by invincible summer at 3:15 PM on September 18, 2019

I work in research, and almost all of my participants have at least a slight preference for texting for time sensitive information: many people find their email is difficult to manage either due to volume or emails being randomly filtered to junk. I have definitely experienced email weirdness from both sides of the equation.

I still use email for a lot of my communication with my own providers, but I always follow up with a call and voicemail if I don't hear back in a business day. I figure if I haven't had a response then someone could be out or the email evaporated into the digital mist. I'm lucky in that I've generally had good luck with people who are part of a group, so if one person is out (or just flakey) then there is someone else to help me out. I suspect if I had no response after an email then call/voicemail (if they didn't want voicemail they'd be more responsive to email and/or put that in their voicemail greeting) sequence, I'd probably move on the someone who was better at managing their communication.
posted by ghost phoneme at 4:00 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

As to what is normal, I work in a large professional services firm but some of my clients end up texting me. I try to ignore that and connect with them using my preferred methods.

This suggests even people in large firms ignore communication via non-preferred channels. (Although I hazard a guess in this case there’s an answer sent another way.)

I echo the experience that most single-owner businesses rely a lot on text.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:16 PM on September 18, 2019

It’s going to be different for different providers, so once you’ve brute-forced your way to their attention by trying everything, I would ask each person what’s best for them for future communication. I text with my therapist, message my stylist on Instagram, email my retaining wall contractor or call his service because they’ll make him call me back but me calling him directly would never work, and get hold of my doctor through her online portal. I’d rather email everyone but that’s not going to get me the results I want, so I have to adapt.

The only thing I definitely would NOT do is call and expect the person to answer if they don’t have admin support. No one is answering the phone for unknown numbers anymore; leave the voicemail.
posted by Stacey at 4:55 PM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Texting within business/professional relationships is definitely a thing. So much that to me, email seems a wierd, slow, way to go about communicating in any situation.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:32 PM on September 18, 2019

As to what is normal, I work in a large professional services firm but some of my clients end up texting me. I try to ignore that and connect with them using my preferred methods.

This suggests even people in large firms ignore communication via non-preferred channels. (Although I hazard a guess in this case there’s an answer sent another way.)

Quite, my point is that even people who work for large organisations with jobs that have them in front of their computer or with their phones (with fully set up email and diary functions that interface with these computers) still sometimes seem to use texting. But the medium is entirely unsuitable for why they are working with us. So they get a response that brings the thing back into the encrypted, secured and backed up world of our respective computer networks or I call them. And I also don’t want to reward intrusive and unprofessional communications like late night or vacation texting. So I’ll contact them the next morning or get another team member to reach out if I am on vacation.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:16 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Even with numbers I recognize, I will not return a call if the caller does not leave a message. Simply calling without leaving a message, expecting me to call back, is inconsiderate. It gives the impression of a command: call me back.

If you want me to call back, tell me why.
posted by megatherium at 5:00 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

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