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Don’t be a slave to your telephone (written12/98) . What has changed since then? Many appraisers only use cell phones, which can sometimes be much worse than landlines as you can be contacted by clients 24×7!! 

This article was previously published in Appraisal Today newsletter and was written by Ann O’Rourke. For more information on the newsletter, go to Appraisal Today Info. It is copyrighted. For reprint permission, Contact Us.

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Appraisers depend on telephones. We confirm sales, set appointments, make bids, receive orders, etc. over the phone. But phones can also be a tremendous time waster.

Appraisers sell their time. Today, most appraisers are very busy. Although we rely heavily on phones for our appraisals, every wasted minute spent on the phone is time that could be used to produce appraisals.

When times were bad during the recent appraisal recession, many of us sat around hoping the phone would ring. Now, it is ringing off the wall, but many of us still have time wasting phone habits from the “bad days.”

Telephones are both time savers and time wasters. But there are many ways to cut down on phone interruptions, too-long calls, and telephone tag.

To avoid becoming a slave to your phone, you must control your calls, rather than being controlled by your callers.

Telephone tag tips

Telephone tag is a tremendous time waster. Here are a few tips:
• When leaving a message, state when you will be available to receive a return phone call. For example, “I will be in the office from 9AM to noon on Wednesday.”
• Be very explicit about what you need when leaving a message. For example, say “I’m trying to confirm the sales price on XXX sale. Public records is not clear. I would really appreciate your help. If I’m not in when you call back, you can just leave the information on my voice mail”
• Try calling when the person is likely to be in. For example, early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
• Ask your callers to let you know what’s a good time for you to call them, if they call back and you’re out.

“Live” vs. Voice mail

An experienced secretary or assistant can save lots of your time by handling many of your phone calls. Requests for appraisal status and other client questions, salespersons’ pitches, return calls for appraisal appointments or information on a comp, etc. Callers who want to leave an extensive message can be transferred to voice mail.

On the other hand, if you’re calling someone and the person answering the phone can’t help you, leaving a message on voice mail is often better than leaving it with the “live” person, especially if it is a long message.

“Appraisal status” calls

How many times have you wanted to scream into the phone, “If I wasn’t talking with you about the status of your appraisal, I could be getting it done!”

Faxing regular status updates to clients, or calling and leaving a message, can save lots of time and aggravation. If they still keep calling two or three times a day, it’s time to get a new client, or stop agreeing to turn-around times you can’t meet.

Call screening

For incoming calls, screening is required. If you have a secretary, inform him or her that you will only be taking certain calls, or no calls. Answering services and machines do block all calls, and should be checked frequently for any important messages

The reason for call screening is to allow you to concentrate on a task. It takes much less time to complete an appraisal if you’re not interrupted.

Cell phones and pagers

Some appraisers have their calls forwarded to their cell phones when they are out in the field. I don’t advise this for safety reasons – talking on a cell phone when driving can be dangerous. Some countries have made making calls while driving illegal. Instead, you can use pager notification of calls.

Making calls on your cell phone can be a great time saver if you’re out in the field a lot. If you need to call someone back at a specific time, you can do it. If you need critical information on a sale for an appraisal that must go out tomorrow, you can make the phone call.

When I have a long day in the field, I frequently make cell phone calls, only when parked, of course!

A good time to make calls is between appointments, or just before taking off into busy traffic when you can’t (or shouldn’t) make phone calls.

It’s also a great way to cut off too-chatty callers. Just say, “I can’t hear you. We must be cut off.”

You control your time

A key rule of time management is that you control your time, particularly if you are the business owner. You decide how long to talk on the phone, whether to answer the phone, whether to return phone calls, when to make phone calls, etc.

To get control over your phone time, you must change your habits. It can be done easily using standard behavior modification techniques. Replacing bad phone habits with good ones is much, much easier than staying on a rigid diet.

Behavior modification example – picking up the phone

Let’s say, for example, you decide you’re spending too much time on the phone (i.e., 3 hours per day). You’re having to work late into the evening to get your appraisal reports done.

Your biggest bad habit is picking up the phone whenever it rings, even when you’re feverishly working on a report that is due today. You decide to train yourself to let it ring into voice mail (or an answering machine, or let your secretary answer the phone), using behavior modification techniques.

The reason you pick up the phone is that you’re afraid to lose an assignment (even though you’re already too busy), afraid a client is trying to contact you (even though they couldn’t get you right now if you were in the field). Pretty simple, basic, motivational factors: fear and greed.

When you’re decided to change your behavior, do it as soon as possible, don’t delay. Don’t try to do too much. Take it one step at a time. Make a commitment to the new habit for a period of time, such as 2 weeks, and don’t let yourself backslide. Reward yourself for using your new habit. Tell others about your new way of working, so you’ll be more likely to keep doing it. You are trying to modify your behavior, and rewards and consistency are both very important to your success.

Immediately stop picking up the phone when it rings, letting it go to voice mail, for one hour a day, say between 2PM and 3PM. Yes, it will be very difficult. Yes, you will be very afraid of losing a client or assignment. Do this every day for two weeks.

Tell your spouse, friends, staff, or other appraisers about your new way of increasing productivity. You’ll be less likely to backslide. You’ll be afraid of looking like an idiot if you backslide on the second day. (That old, familiar motivator of fear!).

After letting the phone ring for an hour a day becomes a habit, try increasing the time, say four hours when you’re really pushing a deadline. What emotion will you feel then? Fear will be replaced by satisfaction in getting more done and reducing stress, a positive motivator. Most of us would prefer that to the old fear of not being able to complete a report on time.

Chatty callers

We all like to have social chit-chat on the phone, but when we’re busy and don’t always have time to chat.

Some ways to stop a chatty caller are:
• “I’ve got a call on the other line. It’s someone I’ve been trying to get ahold of for a week.”
• “I have to leave for an appointment in the next few minutes.”
• “My computer is making some very strange noises. I have to go take a look.”
• “I have a deadline to meet in the next hour.”

Using voice mail

Get the most out of your voice mail (or answering machine) by changing your message frequently. For example, “I’ll be out in the field all day today (Monday), but will call in frequently for messages. Or you can call me tomorrow from 2PM to 5PM.”

Answering services

In my appraisal business, I have used an answering service for 10 years. Why? Because callers are more likely to leave a message when a “live” person answers. How many times do you hang up when a voice mail message comes on?

On the minus side, I do have incorrect messages or wrong phone numbers occasionally.

Answering services vary widely on quality. For many years in my business I used a relatively expensive local service ($200+ per month) that acted like they were my employees. Unfortunately, that company went out of business. Now I use a local $40 per month answering service, about average on quality.

Sometimes the answering service is overloaded and doesn’t pick up my calls, so I have voicemail that kicks in after the 6th ring.

Always return phone calls

Always, always, always return phone calls. Within 24 hours if possible.

That call you thought was from a pesky salesperson may be from your best client, who just hired a new employee.

Do you remember the names of people who didn’t call you back when you really needed to talk with them? I do.

If you don’t want to speak with the person, have your assistant or secretary return the phone call. Or, call back when they are unlikely to be there, such as midnight or 5AM. At least you’ve returned the phone call.

Where to get more information

There are many books on time management. Check your local book store or library. Most of the issues and techniques are fairly well known, and are used in almost all books.

Taking a time management workshop or seminar can be very helpful. I took one 20 years ago, and am still using the techniques I learned there. Time is money – don’t waste it!