At SureVoIP we are really looking forward to the forthcoming Granite City Expo. The chance to meet those we know. The chance to get to know people new to us.
One of the major advantages of actually talking to people is you get a far better feel for them. How they use language. Their tone of voice and the terms they use. We always take the time to have a conversation with current and prospective customers, and it always proves worthwhile.
Thinking about this got us thinking about communications in a wider context.
No-one can doubt the positive impact electronic communications have had. Most of us now hear or read about the day's news stories almost as they happen, sent straight to the smartphone in our pocket. The ability to send instant chat messages to friends and colleagues allows a quick and convenient method of passing on brief messages, files and weblinks. Email is now intrinsic to our business processes, and is embedded in how most of us work. Most official communication is now done via email, and for understandable reasons. It is quick, relatively secure, and allows for interchanges to be recorded and re-read for clarity.
Just as we have gained, have we also lost?
Are we now too reliant on electronic devices and communications? Do we miss something when we just hit 'reply', rather than picking up the phone?
Thinking about the things we gain from our own conversations, we have to say 'Yes'.
We DO lose something by over-reliance on email. We DO lose something by missing the opportunity for a personal discussion.
Just picking up the phone is a fantastic way of improving your customer knowledge. So many things can come up in a phone call. From your customer's likes and interests, to a need for a service or product you didn't know about. The problem with email is that it is very regimented, with a list of tasks or requirements which we must give answers to. All questions answered, job done. But it doesn't leave any room for actual communication.
Don't just talk on the phone. Listen.
The beauty of talking to someone is that you also get the chance to listen to them. And SO many things come to light when you listen to customers.
For a start, there is the tone and implied emotional content of the message.
Consider the phrase: “I would like this to be done by Friday.”
Imagine you have received an email from a customer and it includes this line. It gives a deadline, but it is given in quite an informal way. So, what is the deadline? Is it set in stone and has to be Friday? Or is Friday just a suggestion? Does the task need to be completed by Friday, or is completion by Friday a 'nice to have' movable deadline?
A conversation, either by phone call or face-to-face, gives so much more to go on. You can hear the person's tone of voice, and gauge much more accurately their mood and attitude.
“I would like this to be done by Friday”, said in clipped, cold tones, gives no ambiguity as to the person's desire. It isn't a request, their expectation is that it will be done on or before Friday.
“I would like this to be done by Friday”, said in a warmer, friendlier tone, suggests a more movable deadline. There is room for movement and you can negotiate. If the person emphasises the word 'like' then they are telling you that this isn't a deadline at all, just their personal preference.
As you can see by analysing one simple interaction, differing emphasis on words, tone of voice, attitude and cadence all guide us automatically when communicating.
Relying too heavily on electronic text communications means we miss a whole library of information.
Speech is encoded in our DNA.
After all, humans have been communicating via speech since we were painting on cave walls and chipping cutting tools out of bits of flint.
Our new forms of electronic communications haven't been around so long. It's no surprise that we are instinctively better at one then the other.
We've had much more practise!
So the next time you need to clarify a point in an email, make a suggestion to a customer or find out some background for a quote or tender, think about whether you want to send an email or pick up the phone.
Start a conversation – you never know what you will gain.