Texting Your Customers Can Send the Wrong Signal
February 18, 2016
According to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 73% of U.S. adults text and 83% of U.S. adults are mobile phone owners. So it’s understandable that in this day and age, a large segment of that population prefers to be reached by text message rather than a phone call. The study found that when it comes to a preferred method of contact, 31% of adults would choose a text message, 51% would choose a phone call and 14% say it depends on the situation. I fall in the 14% category.
So what is that situation?
Every form of communication has an appropriate form of messaging. And while today’s technology offers a myriad of ways for us to communicate with one another, it’s important that we are aware of the impact our choice of medium can have on the interpretation of our messages. This is especially important to consider when it comes to business-to-consumer communications – particularly when dealing with new and prospective customers. Choosing the wrong platform to deliver that message can be costly to a business.
Last summer, I was looking for a new heating and air company. I wasn’t crazy about the company we inherited from the previous homeowner, so I called and left a voicemail with a company that I had used once in the past. I liked the company: the technician was cool, the work was good and the prices were reasonable. I was ready to make the switch. But a week passed, and I still hadn’t heard back from them, so I followed up with another phone call and left another voicemail. Another week passed and still no call back. Rather than waiting any longer, I decided to have our existing company do the work. And again, I wasn’t satisfied with how the job was done. I decided to call the other company one more time, only to leave one more voicemail, reminding them that this was my third time to call and that I would really appreciate a call back. One minute later, I got a text from a number I didn’t recognize. The text – consisting of typos and grammatical errors – was from the company I had been trying to reach, explaining that they had gotten my voicemails, but were really busy and wouldn’t be able to get back to me for a while. Feeling dismissed and unappreciated, I decided not to respond. I also decided not to give them any more of my business because of how unimportant they made me feel. And refer them to any of my friends and family? Yeah, no.
A more recent example of this happened last month when I was looking to buy a car. I visited several dealerships and met a lot of salespeople. A salesperson at one dealership preferred to text me instead of calling. And again, the texts were composed with typos and equally annoying abbreviations such as “4U” and “Thx.” Then, when I would quickly respond to his texts with a phone call, I would get his voicemail. Personally, that’s not the level of professionalism I expect when I’m about to make that kind of purchase. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last very long.
Everyone has a personal preference for communication based on what they feel is easiest. But easiest is not always the most efficient, so it’s important to see beyond the limits of one’s own convenience when conducting business. While sending a text message might be more convenient, it can’t replace the emotional connection that a voice-to-voice experience offers. Texts lack tone and emotion and leave too much room for misinterpretation. And to some people, like me, it can come across as dismissive and unprofessional, which can be a deal-breaker.
So are these just isolated incidents, or is this a trend for how businesses are now communicating with their customers? If so, perhaps there should be some set of rules or best practices training in place to make sure this style of communication is being done the right way.
This can be achieved if done properly.
Before I left the dentist after my last checkup, I scheduled my next checkup appointment with the receptionist. She asked if it would be OK for them to send me a text reminder a few days before my next appointment, instead of the printed postcard they normally had me fill out. I happily agreed, but most of all, I appreciated her asking my permission first. And when I received the text six months later, it was well composed, to the point and professional. It was done the right way.
Texting has its place in business-to-consumer communications – just keep it professional and consider your audience before pressing send.