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Do You Have Too Many Points of Contact?

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Being accessible is one of the most important challenges that webworkers face. It’s critical that colleagues and clients can be in touch whenever they need you — it helps reinforce the idea that you’re working and not “working,” and it is a boon to actually getting things done, too. But there can come a point where you have too many points of contact.

When you have…

…a cell phone, land line, Skype number, and backup VOIP line for people to talk to you

…and a number of email addresses where people can leave you more detailed messages

…and several IM clients

…plus Twitter

…augmented by online project and team management sites

…and various videoconferencing platforms…

suddenly you’ve transitioned from accessible coworker to frustrating obstacle course.

If your customers and colleagues are spending several hours downloading clients, setting up accounts on various systems, and otherwise initiating specialized ways of reaching you, your technology has become more of a problem than a solution.

Not only is there the initial hassle factor, but there is the ongoing fuss of deciding which of the half a dozen ways to get in touch with you is going to be best in any particular circumstance. And while having a single point of failure (“He’s not answering the phone!”) is risky, user fatigue from having too many points of potential failure (“He never picks up the cell phone, and forget about hearing back in [email protected]#$%@#$!”) is also problematic.

You need a small set of ways to get in touch that consistently reaches you, like right when they call, not when you get around to picking up your voicemail. Real time accessibility — wherein your colleagues and clients can reach you predictably and easily — is essential.

25 Responses to “Do You Have Too Many Points of Contact?”

  1. One thing that can be worse than multiple contacts is the “perpetual forward”. If the desk phone is not answered after 4 rings, it is then forwarded to the Blackberry. If that’s not answered after 4 rings, it’s forwarded to the personal cell, which is then forwarded back to the desk phone. If the call is never picked up, the caller is stuck in a perpetual ring cycle, never getting to a voice mail system. I work with several people who use this technique, thinking that it keeps them constantly in touch, when in fact it’s extraordinarily frustrating.

  2. I like to keep things simple. The more accounts and services I have the more I have to manage. I use my land line and email. However, contact needs can be job specific. For me it isn’t critical that people be able to reach me immediately. Email works great and pretty much everyone is already using it, so it’s very accessible.

  3. I have a phone, I have a blog, I have a myspace, I have Messenger and all my friends know where I live or where to find me…I guess I’m too accesible :) But the fact is that I don’t mind because I live of social contacts ;-)

  4. In previous post, I forgot to mention that when I am at the office, I forward my cell number to my office line so I can use my landline during the day or when I don’t want to be on the cell.

  5. This is a very important topic. I’m a highly mobile consuktant and travel internationally, work within a virtual company (I’m based in San Francisco, my EA is in Napa Valley, our three senior researchers are in three different time zones). Since 1992, I’ve had the same cell phone number. My clients know only one number for my business and personal. I forward my number to my EA when needed, or to my home, or to Simulscribe (a huge productivity app that records my voicemail, sends me the message in text with a MP3 file with the recording attached). I have used a Blackberry since 1996 and this same set-up. My family and friends also call this same number. I set distinctive rings for family or personal calls and so when I’m ‘off-duty’, only personal calls ring outloud.

    I’ve found this to be a simple solution and it keeps it simple. My clients have always appreciated having just one number. Same with email, every address forwards to one domain address and I use Outlook filters to organize them into one admin panel for review.

  6. As for the deaf community I think SMS and Blackberrys and the like are the answer. I have a friend that works in the deaf and hard of hearing community and she just dumped her Sidekick for a Treo. It shows how having a qwerty keyboard really makes peoples lives so much easier.

    By the way, I have been considering producing some kind of deaf/hard of hearing expo to put the community intouch with the tools that can help, including technology like Blackberrys and so on. Do you have something like this in your community?

  7. thelocomono

    WWD –

    I am Profoundly Deaf so the use of a voice mail helps with hearing callers who do not understand what a VRS service does. I am curious as to what your thoughts are on what kinds of contact points would optimize communication between the deaf and hearing for business purposes.


  8. Your point is a good one and the phone portion can easily be addressed by using a service like Grand Central, which will consolidate your various point of contact, e.g., skype, cell, voip, landline, dentist office. I have found the service extremely reliable and with the addition of their new mobile access, this service is invaluable for any/every web worker.

  9. A limited number of contact points also assures people that their messages and emails will get answered, even when they can’t reach you in person.

    I have two phone numbers: a cell phone that I answer and land line that goes straight to voice mail.

    There are three email addresses: business, personal, and junk mail catcher.

    That’s it.

    (Almost – I do get text messages on my cell phone but only from people that I would meet at the ER or bail out of jail.)

  10. Another element to this problem is exactly how you do publish these many addresses in such a way that people can find them, and the right people. This is something we (Internet Address Book) have been working on for sometime, while a number of the pieces are in place, we are putting some more significant ones in place over the next week.

    The important question to us is who owns the location you chose to publish this information? Its yours, its amung your most valuable personal assets, its something you build your reputation around, and a level of trust, so where should that be?

  11. There’s something to be said for limiting your points of contact, it gives people trying to reach you a set of boundaries that can help you manage your workflow without setting unrealistic expectations around your availability.

    When you’re on deadline for/in a meeting with a client, you don’t want everyone trying 5 different ways to reach you in succession, it just increases the amount of noise that distracts you from your task. When clients jump in succession from land-line to cell to email to IM, you could end up thinking of them as stalkers and not clients.

  12. Personally I use my VoIP phone line and my email as my main points of contact, with email being the preferred method. If someone can’t contact me with either of those, I’m probably not available by any other means.

    If I want I can always set my VoIP to ring on my cell, although I have the practice of not giving my cell phone number out. Giving client’s my personal cell # is a boundry I do not wish to cross.

    If there are specific meeting needs, I would arrange for an IRC, conf. call, IM or whatever – but none of those would EVER be listed as an every day means of contact.

  13. non-cell worker

    I don’t have a cell, and I don’t have IM id’s. I only have a line line phone, and a email address. And I seldom answer my phone personally. I have an answering machine for that. I was worried about people able to find me and put me to work…