You scare me and I don't want to talk to you.
January 31, 2007 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to tell clients I want them to communicate with me through email instead of the phone that doesn't make me sound weird?

I have extreme social anxiety issues but have managed to get a small web design business going from home. In the past I've worked at call center jobs that gave me enough practice to be able to talk on the phone when I have to, but it takes a lot out of me and causes a lot of stress. Typically I will spend all morning anxiously putting off making a phone call or dreading an incoming call and it really disrupts my work because it gets my mind racing for hours. My life would be much calmer and I would get a lot more done if my clients would just talk with me through email. This isn't a long term solution, but for now, is there some way I can ask them to use email other than "talking to you is terrifying, can we type instead?"?

Obviously, I want to work on my anxiety (I have tried medications with mixed results and am looking at getting back in to therapy), but this has been a life long issue for me so it won't go away soon. For now, can anyone help me with a professional sounding way to phrase my preference for email that doesn't make me seem odd?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Could you leave a message on your answering machine directing people to communicate via email? Like, "Hi this is anonymous, sorry I missed your call but I'm probably on the computer working. Feel free to contact me at"
posted by Sassyfras at 11:39 AM on January 31, 2007

I pressed, say that you like to keep a record/papertrail of all communication.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:41 AM on January 31, 2007

I+f = If.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2007

I do what sassyfras does- but mostly because I'm never near the phone. I tell people on my outgoing message that I will be able to reply much faster if they would either leave me their email address or email me at
posted by Thrillhouse at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2007

I have the same problem, and I usually say, "Please use email for our communications; I find that having a written record is very helpful to me in double-checking to make sure I'm following your wishes exactly and giving you the best service possible." You can also use the "My phone is unreliable; if you want to get in touch with me, email is the best and fastest way".
posted by Rubber Soul at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2007

Most of the people I work with communicate with me via email. While I hate the telephone, this is mostly for their convenience. I am not easily accessibe by phone, work many places, don't like to be disturbed when I'm in the middle of a big project and am usually using IM or email to talk to other people (customers? clients?) while they are trying to call. So, in my universe, it's a favor to them usually that I'm accesisble more often and more readily, it just happens to be over email. I have friends who reply to my emails with phone calls, however, so some people are not going to want to shift for their own reasons. I'd present it in a few ways depending on what your clients are like. Here are some polite approaches.

1. I am easier to reach via email and can turn around your requests/concerns much better and more quickly, so please consider contacting me this way as your first option.
2. email gives both of us a "paper trail" and I prefer this for my business and it's better for your peace of mind and security.
3. The phone interrupts my workflow so I would prefer to only be contacted between hours A-B. I will return phone calls during this time as well (for many people, this would make email a more genuine option for them because they could contact you when *they* wanted to)

As you know, refusing to be available at all by phone may be a dealbreaker for some people while others might not care at all. You can sort of decide, as you roll this message out, whether you are willing to go that route or not.
posted by jessamyn at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2007

I think if perhaps you make this disclosure part of the up-front agreement when signing a client, it would be less troublesome (question - how do you pursue and win new business if you can't talk to people?). I think with clients you already have, it would be unreasonable to expect all communication to go through email. If any of my vendors tried that I would do what I could to cease doing business with them, as I don't trust anyone who refuses to speak in person. Of course, that's just me.

If the request was framed in such a way as "I prefer to have a written record of all discussions and agreements so that we can all be on the same page regarding what is to be delivered and for this reason I prefer all communication to happen over email" then you might possibly get away with it. Is there any peculiarity of your location you may be able to exploit? Time zones or something that would allow you to say 'Due to the differences in our locations, the best way to reach me is email'?

Unfortunately I don't think it's possible to 100% avoid all vocal interactions with clients.
posted by spicynuts at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2007

Make it a requirement that clients provide an email address and that you may work odd hours so email will be the best way to contact you. Communicate upfront that this is your preferred method of communication.

You may have less than optimal number of clients/high paying jobs as there will always be a % of the population that want to meet and talk with the people they hire.

Also, some people will be less than happy with the arrangement, you will have to live with the fact that you can't please everyone.
posted by edgeways at 11:44 AM on January 31, 2007

If it's important, you can also make this a fixed deal when approaching future clients. "I am generally only accessible via email, will that be okay with you?"
posted by jessamyn at 11:44 AM on January 31, 2007

I can only tell you what I use in my personal work experience. I work at a large media agency and get a ton of calls from reps every day asking me to schedule meetings for them. I just let them know that due to my large volume of work, it's hard for me to field as many calls as can come in and that I would prefer a request in email, where I can more thoroughly go over the details (this also helps because I always have written backup of what they need from me in case my listening/notetaking skills fall by the wayside). I have never encountered any problems. I just state it politely and wait for the email to come in!

I just basically say, "Could you just shoot me a quick email outlining your request?"

In our email-intense workplace, this is rarely misconstrued as me hating to talk on the phone, which I do. The key is keep it short and polite.
posted by zombiebunny at 11:44 AM on January 31, 2007

+1 Sassyfras. Voicemail is your friend.

Although I don't have social anxiety, I prefer e-mail communications as well. I tell customers "please send me an e-mail so I have a paper trail, so to speak."

Nobody has outright balked at this, although some people are just plain more phone-oriented (or computer-disoriented), so it is likely that some fraction of your clients will automatically be inclined to interact with you that way.

How are you with instant-messaging? I can imagine e-mail/voicemail would get tedious when a deadline is approaching and you and the client need live interaction.
posted by adamrice at 11:46 AM on January 31, 2007

In my experience, a lot of people who prefer the phone do so because they either don't write well, or think they don't write well -- they worry that sending an email with the info or suggestions won't get their actual points across, or will take them longer to write than being on the phone will. These tend to be the people who ramble on and on over the phone, making the same point several times, I've found.

One trick to get those sorts of people to shift over is asking them to send you an email first outlining their request, and then tell them that you'll call them if you have any questions. (If they're *really* resistant, the first few times you can schedule a mandatory phone call to "go over it," then try to taper off to a phone call only if you have questions.)

I've found that as long as I produce what they do actually want (which for me, is much easier to divine from an email than from a phone call), they relax a bit and start getting more confidence in the email communication relationship.
posted by occhiblu at 11:53 AM on January 31, 2007

(I meant to add to the above: If you can require an email summary every time they call, they'll start to realize that the phone calls are getting a bit repetitive on their own. Most of the time!)
posted by occhiblu at 11:54 AM on January 31, 2007

tell them you are best reached via email. dont answer the phone when they call. respond to their voicemail with email.
posted by c at 11:55 AM on January 31, 2007

I hate the phone too.

One counter-intuitive idea that might be helpful longterm is to put a piece of tape over your caller ID display and promise yourself you will answer all rings on the first try. I did this for a while when working in an office. With caller ID, I would just ignore the call. Without it I was more likely to trick myself into picking up.

In the short term, to deter callers, all the above suggestions are decent. One thing you might try is to record a new voice mail every day (begin with: "Good morning, you've reached anonymous, this is Wednesday January 31st") and go on to say something like "I will be in meetings and away from the phone much of today, but will have constant access to my email, for quickest response please contact me that way".

Using that plan, you could even slowly ween yourself off "no-phone days", doing a message like that first 4 days a week, then 3, etc.

Eventually, uncover your caller ID, and only ignore "problem" clients who need training.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:58 AM on January 31, 2007

"C"'s strategy works for me. Don't answer the phone. If they leave a voicemail, reply in email. If they don't leave one, it wasn't important anyway.
posted by putril at 12:04 PM on January 31, 2007

recording a daily voicemail is a great idea- it makes people trust that you're on the ball, even if they don't hear from you.
maybe you should fake a slight stutter on the outgoing message so peope can come to their own conclusions about why you're hard to reach via voice.

make sure to be very prompt with returning emails and with emailing responses to phone calls-
if they can't get you on the phone, you'd better respond to their emails within hours.
maybe you could even send text messages if you sense the client is going nuts for a response on the go.

i don't think this is such a big deal that you have to mention it officially. i'm self-employed myself, and i never answer my phone, but i'm prompt with responses, so nobody seems to care. just start doing it, and as long as you're not making people wait to for information, no-one will mind too much.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:06 PM on January 31, 2007

If someone did to me what putril describes, it would drive me nuts. I feel like I have a good sense of when I need the phone to resolve my questions or problems and when email would do. Different needs require different solutions.

I think you should do your best to learn to cope with the phone, as These Premises are Alarmed suggests.
posted by sweetkid at 12:19 PM on January 31, 2007

where i work, people use the phone because they know emails will, generally get ignored. using the phone is a way of pushing yourself up the queue. maybe something to bear in mind - people will always want to queuejump.
posted by ascullion at 12:42 PM on January 31, 2007

I'm a freelancer and one of the ad agencies I work with uses Basecamp, a web-based project management system. They are slowly inviting clients into the system to add messages, review comps, etc.

If you could set up something like that, you have a perfect opportunity to direct clients to communicate exclusively that way because every contact is captured and is there for reference. It becomes a benefit you are offering vs. a restriction.
posted by garbo at 12:45 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is no way to state this preference without sounding like a complete weirdo or someone that has no interest in retaining customers. Hire a call center to handle your calls or find someone that will communicate for you.

Unfortunately your handicap is really going to put you at a disadvantage as you can bet your competition will gladly communicate over the phone.

I have an associate with the same sort of problem as yourself. He manages direct communication by only answering questions given to him with "yes" or "no". If he feels more elaboration was needed he states, "I will get back to you on that" and follows up with email but he never says "I can't talk to you, send me an email."
posted by bkeene12 at 1:09 PM on January 31, 2007

Sorry, the phone is a necessary evil. Here are some situations I would resolve by phone:
- You are late on a deadline and I need to know what the hell is going on NOW.
- You are screwing up the project and I need to discuss the problems with you to get you back on track.
- I received an email that is non-sensical and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the topic at hand. I would call you to clear up the misunderstanding. Basic primers are best delivered over the phone.
- We have played email ping-pong on a particular subject (read: back and forth at least 2 times) without reaching mutual understanding/consensus. I would call you to get that consensus.
- Coping with thread explosion (where multiple people have been dragged in for no real reason, the email thread wanders way beyond the original query, and a resolution of the original issue is not forthcoming). I would call you to resolve the original issue then start a new thread confirming the resolution.
- Talking about sensitive issues where a paper trail is not desirable. (eg, personnel issues, discussions that you do not want to be subject to subpoena or discoverable by a court of law)
- Disclosing credit card numbers/payment information.
- Dealing with real-time problems - the server is down, the power is out, the office is on fire, etc.
- Screening/interviewing personnel.

Email is great for routine communications, but is terrible for a whole host of issues. The paper trail thing is a good way to get the majority of your communications done over email, but it won't eliminate all of your phone calls. I'd recommend learning to make phone calls proactively first thing in the morning and rewarding yourself accordingly. No sense wasting the entire day torturing yourself.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:14 PM on January 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

In my experience I have found that people who insist the phone do so for a variety of reasons:

(1) Technically inept and do not see e-mail as a convenience. You cannot change this, though I would avoid those people as a client (unless you have amazing social skills).

(2) They wish to garner favoritism and believe they can either bully or sweet talk it over the phone. You can never really win in these situations and you need to learn how to manage people individually.

(3) The phone is simply easier when collaboration is high and goals have yet to be set. It helps to quickly establish a working relationship than e-mail. I usually follow up with an e-mail summarizing everything after that.

I do not work in web design, but I do work with people of varying technical abilities.

Some people are demanding by their nature. If you take people on as clients that demand you drop everything and talk to them per their convenience, make sure you charge a premium for such service.
posted by geoff. at 1:16 PM on January 31, 2007

sweetkid is right, not answering the phone for your clients is just bad business sense. I'm an attorney and we folks worship paper trails like gods, so e-mail is always preferable. But if someone wanted to call me, they can call me. The same drawbacks to using the phone apply to the person on the other end of the line as well.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:16 PM on January 31, 2007

sweetkid: It would be subtle and you wouldn't notice the pattern at first!

In response to "driving you nuts" I'll give one that drives me nuts: when a caller (always a caller, this never happens in an email) says "would you [do something] for me real quick?" You may not have noticed this, but the code words "real quick" actually mean "right now" and "instead of whatever you were doing before I called".

This is a prime example of what ascullion says about queue jumping I guess.
posted by putril at 1:21 PM on January 31, 2007

An email trail is great, but most people are much better at communicating orally than in writing, and you have a chance to probe for clarification in real time on the phone.

When I've had to depend on email for getting things done, it drove me insane, as almost everything written by an untrained writer is ambiguous and unclear.

If that's the way you roll, though, many people have it right above: stop answering phone calls, and return voicemails with email.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:26 PM on January 31, 2007

The phone is really not that necessary and it is an imposition. I don't think disliking it is as much of a handicap as the phone-lovers claim. After an initial phone meeting, I do what putril does (in my job involving coordinating lots of people) and it works well. That tasks involving calling me take longer is an extra bit of motivation.

The people who really need to be shot though, are the people who respond to an email with a phone call. When the revolution comes, my friends, when the revolution comes . . .
posted by dame at 1:35 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

putril - you are so right. my manager did this to me this afternoon! lazy git - he could have compiled the info he was after (and wanted emailed to him!) in less time than it took to call me (at another client)...and he had to follow up my reply anyway as some of the info was in a paper file in the vincinity of his desk!

definitely prefer email and find people who insist on talking very tiresome - incapable of coming to the point, inacapable of making a decision...and often not very computer literate.

there is however a place for personal interaction - written communication can be misinterpreted more easily as clues in your voice and bodylanguage are missing.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:50 PM on January 31, 2007

One possible solution: emphasise the "company" in your activities. Get a company name that is not your based on personal name, and register a domain in that name (call this ""). This means that clients will see you as "the company" not "the individual". People find it weird when an individual is not contactable by phone, but companies have a wider scope in setting the norms for how people communicate with them. Then you can say, on your web site and other publicity materials " is an online only company. To save money that we pass onto you, our clients, we do not employ people to answer the phone. Instead, all aspects of our business are handled efficiently by email, which allows our clients to have direct access to our trained designers". You might not even need to bother saying anything. No-one need know that the "trained designers" is just you in your spare room.

This is a solution that is used by many e-commerce companies - do you think it weird that you can't (readily) phone Amazon or eBay? I don't see that it would be much more of a stretch to extend this model to a services company.
posted by Jabberwocky at 2:43 PM on January 31, 2007

You don't have to explain yourself to anyone, just set up your communications systems the way that's convenient for you. "I'm available by email, and I'm hard to reach by phone so please email me." It's your phone. It's there for you. Not for everyone else's convenience. I see lots of good advice above. Don't let the phone traumatize your life. My ringer is off and it stays that way unless I am expecting an important scheduled call back. Period. And I am not anxious about the phone, just hate interruptions.
posted by Listener at 2:45 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think of incoming phone calls as interruptions and I hate voicemail. Luckily I have have a phone system that emails me mp3s of my voicemails.

I listen to them with 10-15 minutes of the call and reply via email most of the time. If a phone call is needed, I'll pick up and call.
posted by Mick at 3:04 PM on January 31, 2007

What Listener said.

Don't take on clients who can't work with you. If you're good at what you do, you'll get repeat business and referrals. If you're not, you should be doing something else anyway, not making yourself miserable by working for every bastard who calls you up.
posted by flabdablet at 3:17 PM on January 31, 2007

Some people mentioned that the people who like the phone aren't able to word their wishes or questions coherantly via email. This is true, sure, but remember that there are many ways of 'learning' or 'interaction' that different people prefer (and work best with)

I like email when the problem is clear, or the answer I need can be quickly discussed in a few lines. But sometimes if I'm in the process of figuring things out, or need a series of questions answered which are sequence dependant (the second question depends on the answer of the first), then trying to word an email quickly becomes trying, compared with a phone call where I can ask, discuss, react, then form a new question based on updated data/information.

Also, some people simply 'think' better while interactively talking. Mostly extroverts, which would automatically imply an affinity with spoken words. They are more alert and refreshed due to the interaction. While your typical introvert is quickly worn out with a phone call and much rather prefers to read a mail at his/her own pace, and can reflect on it (even for a moment) with no immediate pressure to provide an immediate response.

I don't think either way is better, or that implying that those who prefer interactive communication are somehow technologically inept or too brash with their thinking. I'm probly in the middle since I do prefer both methods, depending on the situation.

To give an answer to the question, try to look at it from the potential client's point of view. They may simply communicate better with one method. In the end, if they prefer phone, but you don't, one or both of you have to make a compromise and feel uncomfortable. As the person providing the service, the burden usually falls on you to try to be accomodating, but that depends on your field.

One alternative I didn't see here was instant messaging, which can naturally be used in either way (pseudo email or interactive). You might be able to interface better with someone who preferes real-time communication, but still do it at a slightly slower pace than a phone would provide.
posted by johnstein at 4:47 PM on January 31, 2007

I wouldn't care that much if I always got someone's voicemail when I called them, so long as they were diligent in getting back to me. I think if your voicemail message politely suggested using email, most people would take the hint, especially if it did result in a quicker response.
posted by kjs4 at 5:03 PM on January 31, 2007

I, too, hate phone calls for work, and I also freelance. I tell my clients "here's my phone number, but it's actually easier to get in touch with me by e-mail." Nobody has ever implied that they thought it was odd. (I make sure that I am easy to get in touch with by e-mail when I'm working on a project.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:15 PM on January 31, 2007

Some people will always prefer the phone, and find communicating in writing awkward or even demeaning. But you're unlikely to get clients who think like that in the first place, as they'll want meetings, presentations and firm handshakes.

Just make it clear that email is the most efficient way to contact you, and use the phone when a genuine discussion is needed.

I know it sounds odd, but have you tried VoIP? Using a software package to manage calls, and a mic/headphones to talk, might avoid some of the negative connotations you've perhaps built up and make it all feel a bit more like email/IM.
posted by malevolent at 2:32 AM on February 1, 2007

Don't forget that there're potential clients who also hate telephones for various reasons.

Make it clear to them that you're very, very good at e-mail. Quick response time via ~ , &c. See if you can't attract like-minded people.
posted by kmennie at 5:45 AM on February 1, 2007

I tell people that it is easier for me to keep track of what they want when it is in writing. I don't apologize for this. Just be confident and tell them.
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:48 AM on February 1, 2007

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