By Cliff Ennico
“I am an accountant who has been working with small businesses for over 30 years. I don’t consider myself an ‘old person,’ and am actually quite fluent in today’s digital technology (at least my kids tell me I am).
As my clients retire and pass their businesses on to their own children, though, I find myself having more and more trouble with communications. The new millennial generation wants to do everything by text message, and they demand instant responses to all questions.
I’m all for being responsive to my clients’ needs, but there are times when I can’t respond to things in Internet time. Maybe I have to research or think about something before I answer. Maybe I have to make manual changes to someone’s tax return that can’t be made using the TurboTax® template.
I’ve had more than one client tell me that ‘in this day and age’ it isn’t acceptable service not to respond to an e-mail or text message instantaneously. But is it acceptable service to respond in haste and risk committing malpractice? I don’t want to have to choose between my professional responsibility and my professional reputation for good customer service.”
Boy, do I feel this person’s pain.
It’s no secret that today’s technology has sped up our lives to the point that many of us (and I’m not just talking about Baby Boom geezers in their 60s and 70s) feel that things are spiraling out of control. Many of my clients think nothing of sending me a multi-page text message with all sorts of interweaving problems and demanding a response within an hour.
Yet to my knowledge (and I should know – I make it a point to attend the LegalTech trade show in NYC each year — http://10times.com/legaltech-newyork — specifically to learn about new technology products for lawyers) there is as yet no “app”, cloud-based solution or robot that will help me draft and review legal contracts faster without sacrificing accuracy. It takes me every bit as long to do that work as it did when I first started practicing 36 years ago.
It gets worse. While I’m drafting or reviewing a contract for one of my clients, time stands still. Every contract is unique – there is no such thing as a “boilerplate” contract form where I just fill in the blanks and hand it to the client as a finished product. That never happens.
When I’m drafting contract language I have to think not only about the paragraph I’m working on at the moment, but other “conforming” changes that need to be made elsewhere in the document so the change I’m making now works. I simply can’t be interrupted by phone calls, text messages, or anything that goes “beep boop bop” that disrupts my flow of thought. All that stuff has to wait a little bit until I finish the contract and come up for air.
While I certainly can work on multiple projects at the same time, at any given moment there can be only one priority on my time: at the present moment, it’s finishing this column. I can’t be rushed.
But try explaining that to a fast-talking multitasking Millennial who grew up in a world where instant gratification was the norm. Many of these folks don’t even think in complete sentences with a subject, a verb, and an object. They speak in a form of shorthand where clarity is sacrificed for speed in getting the basic message across. That is, when they can be persuaded to speak at all.
I’m leery about putting some communications in e-mail or text format for fear they may come back to bite me if it turns out I “jumped the gun”, made some unwarranted assumptions or didn’t ask the client all the right questions. There are times when I need to talk through an issue with a client and give him a “quick curbside” answer – one I don’t want to be held accountable for.
When I’m under too much pressure from a client for a quicker-than-natural turnaround, I sometimes resort to the old question “would you rather have your answer quickly or would you rather I get it right?” But there’s a funny thing about Millennials – they all love comic irony, except when it’s directed at them.
So here’s what I do in an era of unmanageable expectations.
Whenever a client is pressing me for time, I leave a voice message on their cell number as follows: “Thanks for your message. I am working on your matter and assure you that you are not being ignored, merely prioritized. I have a number of projects that are on very tight deadlines, but I can promise you will have your answer/document/whatever by [time] on [date]. If you really need it sooner, please call and let me know as that really helps me manage my time.”
Then I move heaven and earth to make sure I meet the self-imposed deadline.
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2016 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Follow him at @cliffennico.