By Andrew Neitlich

How well do you handle interruptions?

By Andrew Neitlich

Today yet another basic lesson about customer service comes up.

I’m sitting with a videographer/developer going through 2 hours of video clips. This is hard word as we are isolating still photos for a book.

The phone rings. He excuses himself to take the call. He comes back, apologizes, and we have to take a few minutes to figure out where we were.


The phone rings again. He takes the call again.

He ends up taking 3 or 4 calls during this session. He was apologetic, and noted that the calls netted him about $7,000 in business, but still….

When you are with a client, focus on that client. They have taken the trouble to come and visit you in person, not the caller. If you have an urgent call you know is coming, tell the client ahead of time. Otherwise, let your voice mail handle it.

Simple stuff.

  • This is general phone edicit and is not polite in any situation. I’d say of course in business it has the largest negative side effect.

  • I normally don’t take the phone during a meeting with a clients, but if my phone call earned me 7k in business…

  • DevonWright

    The same reason why I don’t use call waiting. I feel that swapping to someone else on the phone is rude to the first person. (my wife despises that I feel that way…heh)

  • Not only was it an interruption, but it sounds like when he was quoting how much business he got from the calls he was in a sneaky way telling you how unimportant YOUR business was to him.

  • I try not to take phone calls during appointments, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. If he was polite and brief, then I’d try to excuse it. 4 calls is a little excessive, though.

  • Andrew, what’s your percentage of the $7000.00?
    I mean he was working with you so….

    All kidding aside, we rarely take calls during meetings unless as has been mentioned you know somethings coming through that can’t be avoided. Then we keep it brief and leave it at that.

    I’m a bit suprised at the candid comment about how much money he had made by taking those calls. I suppose if you had already developed a relationship with this individual it could be quite normal. Usually when guys get together the topic of fish stories, fast cars and enormous amounts of money get traded back and forth. It’s a guy thing.

    Not so normal if this is the first time you’ve worked together.


  • Michael Lumis

    Hi Andrew,
    If you need a videographer that *wont* answer his phone during interviews, I’m your man :) (michael.lumis@gmail.com)

  • Demex

    I totally agree about call waiting! I hate being put on hold in the middle of a conversation and I wouldn’t do that to anyone else.

  • Hello Andrew.

    Did you let your videographer/developer know you were upset?

    Will you continue to work with your videographer/developer?

    What happened?

  • nick

    Well you people need to relax a little bit. I wonder if your time schedule is soooo tight and organised, that a few interruptions drive you crazy.
    Most probably Andrew didnt have anything better to write today…

  • islandmiss

    My biggest pet peeve is when I’ve taken the time to visit a business in person, but then a customer who calls on the telephone takes priority over the actual customer who is standing there doing business (me). This has got to be one of the most flawed aspects of what is considered ‘normal’ customer service.

  • stat2899

    Well, that’s good money. I would recommend getting a secretary or an assistant. A well trained and highly efficient secretary can handle the calls in the same manner as the business owner and not only retain business, but often net new business.

  • timjpriebe

    I rarely take calls during meetings. In fact, there’s only been one occassion where I took a call during a meeting, and I told my client ahead of time that I was expecting that call.

  • aneitlich


    Thanks for the questions. The guy does great work, and was very apologetic. He saw me getting impatient, and chose not to charge me for his time (also he did this as he was late to a recent video shoot).

    So that works for me.

    To me, his interruptions were a minor nuisance, not enough to fire anyone over (his recent lateness was a bigger nuisance, since he kept a client of mine delayed, too). But he realized that he wasn’t providing his usual level of service.

    So the point is that minor nuisances add up. Do the best you can to provide impeccable service by focusing on many little and big things.

  • EagleEyesDesign

    Great subject. I would not go back to a professional who took phone calls during a meeting, unless waiting for one special call, and then was quickly done with it. Every interruption ruins my train of thought so much that it’s like having my brain rebooted every time. Painful. Loved working in the Dot Coms but could never go back to that stress of interruptions. Get more accomplished in one day NOW than in a month of an office life.

    I’ve built my way of life around the simple goal of having a day-long-train-of-thought. I meet clients at lunches and give them 100% of my focus. Work at home office. Email only. No phone. Ringer is off. This will NOT work for anyone else I know, but commenting here in case one other person across the world is struggling and feeling like a failure because of never being able to finish a project. Like I used to feel. Environment, Environment, Environment! – Christina

  • J Wynia

    I operate on the following principle (which I’ve explained to lots of people as it came up).

    My attention is given in direct proportion to the effort put forth by the person receiving it.

    If you have come to my office in person, you have priority over the phone, instant messaging, email and postal mail. This goes on down the line. If I’m on the phone, and you try to instant message me, you will not get a response until I’m off of the phone.

    This means that you are likely to get my voicemail on a busy day, but when we *do* sit down for an hour, you have my undivided attention.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.