The Construction Time Zone

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Time ZonesImage source: Public domain (NARA)
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If you’ve ever had repair work done on your home or office, you’re familiar with the construction time zone.

The CTZ is different than regular time zones like the three hour lag between the East and West coasts in the US. In the CTZ, a normal week is converted into one construction hour.

Here’s how it works: When you’re in the CTZ, you believe an entire week has passed since you heard from your contractor or handyman. Yet that busy individual is just as certain it’s only been an hour since you last spoke.

The CTZ is not limited to the construction industry. Accountants can also fall into the zone, especially when work is hectic. You get involved in a project and the hours slip past. Your client, however–the one waiting for you to call–is still operating on normal time.

Though your lapse is caused by your work schedule, chances are good your client will take the perceived lack of service personally and feel disrespected. After all, he’s paying for your attention to his financial needs, and you’re not providing that attention.

How can you keep the CTZ from damaging your reputation for superior customer service?

Answer the phone. Sure, it takes time away from what you’re doing–and it may not always be a good idea to interrupt your thought process in the middle of a complicated tax return. On the other hand, it takes longer to listen to a message, phone the person back, leave a message when you can’t get in touch with them, listen to another message after they return your call and you don’t answer, then phone them back …

Listen. When you answer the phone, stop reviewing the return that’s open on your computer screen. Stop reading that email you need to respond to. Stop searching through your desk drawer for a spare cylinder of pencil lead. Instead, listen to what your client wants from you. Really listen, without interrupting before she’s done talking because you think you know what she’s asking. If you believe you don’t have time to listen, consider this: How often have you had to do work over because you misunderstood what someone said?

Stop being nice. No, not to clients. You should always be nice to clients. Just stop thinking you’re being nice when you say, “Sure, I can have that for you by noon tomorrow,” when you know perfectly well the only way you’ll be able to honor your promise is to clone yourself and keep both you and your clone working nonstop for the next twenty-four hours. Be honest upfront. And be nice about it.

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