Although I prefer the personal visit or phone call to the less personal email, what are some thoughts about when to chose one over the other?
The choice of whether you should communicate through phone or e-mail is not always an easy one as both have their pros and cons. It is ill-advised to limit yourself to using one or the other in all situations. If you do, you forfeit the benefits of the other in certain circumstances.
Email is the most common method of general business communication, is usually faster, clearer and easier. It can help to ensure and track timely delivery (or non-delivery). It can eliminate the inconveniences that can occur when attempting to make contact by phone (e.g., voice mail "tag", missing return calls). Email can also provide you with the ability to think a little more carefully about the content of your message. Finally, it creates a permanent record of delivery and can usually be easily reproduced, referenced, or forwarded to others as needed.
On the negative side, when the dominant purpose of the communication is emotion rather than content, e-mails come off as impersonal and cold. Whatever nuance you thought you were sending was probably lost. Email is also inefficient for actively discussing an issue, since it is more like trading punches than having a conversation.
Phone calls allow for synchronous communication. During emotionally charged/ sensitive conversations or when addressing client concern or confusion, issues or misunderstandings can be cleared up easily during the scope of a single call. In addition, if the topic is complex, it may actually take more time to explain what is being requested in a lengthy e-mail than via a quick call. Unless recorded (in most states this requires advance notification) there is no record of the call, sometimes desirable. Tip:
The choice is really about what the recipient needs to think and feel as a result of the communication. Here's a novel thought: ask your client what method they prefer and for what circumstances. you might be surprised to hear that for requests, they would rather they be by email because it provides a record - or - that they prefer they be by phone because they do not provide a record. © 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA