Captain, since we have seen that death is the one reality in this situation, I seriously suggest you reseat yourself immediately, without moving a muscle of either hand. If I remember correctly, that would involve you in what was called ‘the fast draw’. It initiated unfortunate events. -Spock, Star Trek: Spectre of the Gun

I had an interesting revelation when I started working in technical support. In this example, I learned the value of pausing and responding over quickly reacting.

In this incident, a customer had contacted me for some technical advice on repairing their system. It was nothing major. Their system had experienced some downtime and the local tech team had repaired the system.

However, they were looking for additional ideas on how to address the cause of the problem and prevent future downtime. So they sent me an email asking for my input.

I emailed a response to the customer, providing him with ideas based on my experiences with the systems in my territory. I also copied the local technical field support rep as well as the application engineer, the technical lead and liaison between the account manager and the customer. After sending the email, I didn’t think of the interaction again.

A few days later, I received a copy of my email message from the application engineer expressing his outrage. He felt the right way to handle the situation was to send the request to him and let him address it.

But here’s the challenge I had with his course of action. The customer had tried to contact him several times about their questions. Each time the application engineer failed to respond. So as a last resort, they sent the questions to me.

Pause before Responding to Email

Instead of immediately sending him an email defending my actions, I stopped and let his email sit for a while.

It gave me time to see things from his perspective as well as from the customer’s perspective. It gave me time to understand that we both wanted the same thing where the customer was concerned. And it gave me time to decide on the direction and outcome of the conversation.

Then, I composed my message. In it, I apologized and wrote that I didn’t mean for the situation to turn out that way. I explained that my main concern was for the customer.  My goal was to insure they had a good impression of the company, and they had the necessary information to use our equipment. Then, I again apologized about the misunderstanding, and I supplied my phone number if he needed to talk.

Lastly, I sent him the email message along with the entire email trail, and I copied myself and my manager.

The Results from Responding to the Email Instead of Reacting to it.

I didn’t get a response from the application engineer.

I did, however, get a response from my manager. He commented, “This is an extremely well written email! Where did you learn to do that?”

By taking time to think about my response, I was able to defuse  a volatile situation.  In addition, I secured recognition from my manager, and reinforced the company’s credibility with our client.

Later in the year, I took my manager around my territory to introduce him to my customer base. We were traveling down the Oregon coast from the airport to the customer site. And during that long drive, he gave me some insights into management.  He said that good managers aren’t the people that upper management appoints. He said good managers are the people who can manage themselves, responding to situations instead of reacting to them.

When answering email, take the position that everyone is your customer. Respond to their message instead of reacting to it. Quickly design the outcome you want and the direction you want to take the relationship before responding to a message. Your customers will appreciate the effort.