“Other-Centric” Communication

Everyone likes to feel like they are important; Family, Friends, Co-Workers, but especially our Customers!  How we communicate their importance, what is said and how it is finally interpreted, can be more difficult than it seems.

The following posts from various Web Blogs on the subject are a good example of how a simple, well intentioned, albeit not well thought-out statement, can be interpreted by our customers and others.

The phrase, “at my earliest convenience” shows up frequently in business communications, often in a way that is less courteous than the user thinks it is.

For example, the phrase can sometimes be heard at the end of outgoing voice-mail greetings, as in: “This is Mary Jones. I’m sorry I missed your call. Please leave a message, and I will call you back at my earliest convenience.”  Mary may think the phrase demonstrates her responsiveness, but let’s say a client calls Mary and gets her voice-mail. Even though Mary is offering to call the client back at her earliest convenience, she is still essentially saying she will not call back before it becomes convenient for her. And wouldn’t the ideal of good customer service be to base the timing of the return call on the convenience of the client? It may well be convenient for the client to hear back from Mary long before it actually feels convenient to Mary to make that call.  Better, then, for Mary to end her greeting with something along the lines of   “I will call you back as soon as possible.” A Better way of saying this would be…………“I will call you back at my earliest opportunity

The person who left that message was a little confused. The phrase “earliest convenience” is meant to be used with the word “your” not “my.” It was probably just sloppy thinking on his/her part, but you are right, it could come across as arrogant.

  • When you say “please call me at your earliest convenience,” that is polite (not wishing to inconvenience the person).
  • When you say “I will return your call at my earliest convenience,” that is rude, because it implies that the caller has already caused inconvenience just by calling. I will return your call at “MY” earliest convenience…….Isn’t this just a cordial way of saying, “I will answer your call when I feel like?” It’s a bit odd to refer to one’s own convenience. The whole point in invoking ‘convenience’ is to defer to someone else, acknowledging their interests and priorities while clearly indicating your own.

What does your voice mail message convey to important callers?


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