We’re here when you need us. 24/7 Customer Service. Just shoot us a message.
This is the “Age of Accessibility”. Small businesses (including ours) are ditching desk phones for smart phones, with only one primary line available to customers. Want to learn more? Fill out a contact form. Need something? Send it in an email.
Even email is diminishing (including ours) with the rise of in-office communication platforms like Slack – all in an effort to work smarter and more efficiently.
Mostly, the “Age of Accessibility” is a good thing. Office voicemail, for most employees, is almost non-existent, there are less “out of office” reminders to set, and you can, typically, answer digital messages faster. But there’s something that’s inevitably lost with these new trends. A personal touch.
The world will move on in tech progress, as it should. What we have to be careful of is taking misconception for fact, and substituting a complementary tool for the task itself. In a nutshell, technology should serve us, not replace us.
Here’s where we get in trouble.
We like to be left alone.
Only the most outgoing of outgoing folks are truly uninhibited by in-person or phone-based customer inquiries. Be honest. How often do you take a deep breath and remind yourself to smile when talking before you get on a call or walk into a meeting with a client?
The truth is, most of us like to be left alone. We do what we do best when we can keep our head down, concentrate, and zone out into our nerdy spaces of sketching, writing, coding, strategizing, budgeting, what have you. But all members of a team, especially in the small business world, are responsible for delivering quality customer service. We’re also responsible for maintaining an efficient and clear workflow with one another. And neither of those tasks can be executed solely via email or through project management software.
In either case, a brief human-to-human interaction can keep your conversational skills in check, save everyone from misinterpretation, and help you represent yourself (and your brand) in a positive way.
Sometimes, we sound rude.
One critical aspect of communication that’s often lost in the digital realm is tone. But as you might remember from childhood (“Don’t take that tone with me, young lady/young man!”), tone is everything. Through tone, we communicate respect, patience, understanding, sarcasm…the list goes on.
When your tone is off, your response will likely be less than ideal. Groove’s Len Markidan recently wrote about “perceived rudeness” as one of the 6 Customer Service Mistakes That Annoy Customers Most. For example, “78% of respondents said that an overly casual tone (like using slang or emoticons) has a negative impact on their experience when the agent is denying a request.” And, guess what? That’s something that’s easy to do if you’re using a digital message to convey pushback.
For important discussions and decision-making, we’re fortunate to have local clients who can meet with us in person. However, that’s not always the case. So, here’s a good rule of thumb. When you wish you could sit down with a customer for a few minutes to explain your reasoning, pick up the phone instead of hammering out another email. Chances are, it will save you both from unfortunate miscommunication, and help you maintain a healthy relationship.
Digital doesn’t always save time.
One of the things we’re working on internally, is being better about picking up the phone if we can’t communicate what we want to say to each other in less than a paragraph. And it’s not easy. Just like any other habit, when you rely on one mode of communication, your instinct is to use it first. While our experiment is still a work in progress, what we’ve found is that long digital replies that might sound overwhelming or testy are explained away with human tone. And complicated issues that might take an hour’s worth of online communication are solved within a quick call.
The same is true with your customers. Depending on personality, you could nail down decisions that used to take a week of back-and-forth, within one scheduled chat.
Here’s the thing – on average, it’s getting harder to remember to be human. But we all are. Your customers are. Your coworkers are. Don’t use technology as an excuse for a less personable business model. Let it accentuate your process, and when you really need to talk, just pick up the phone.