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A Guideline for Communication: When to Email, Text or Call

Just recently, I contacted a vendor to order their product via email, considering online ordering was not working properly.  A few weeks went by with no response.  I found this odd considering not too many people will turn you down when you try to give them money.  So, I sent a follow-up email and still, no response.  A few weeks later, I received an email from the owner who was concerned due to the fact that I created an account on their website but never placed an order.  I explained the situation to him, and it turns out that there was an email routing error (hence why they did not get my emails).  On top of that, they were unaware that online ordering was not working.  Who knows how many orders they missed out on over the past few weeks.

At the source of almost every mistake is a communication breakdown.

Sometimes, as in this case, communication barriers are due to technology breakdown.  However, in most cases it is human error.  We either use the wrong medium for communication or fail to communicate at all.  In this post, I want to address the former by presenting a guideline that will help you know when to use email, text messaging, or an old-fashioned phone call.

When to Email

Email is best used when you need to communicate something that is not time-sensitive.  If you can wait 6+ hours for a response, this is the way to go.  Also, if you are a weekend worker and need to discuss business, it is best to send an email while understanding that a response may not come until Monday.  It is important to respect the fact that some folks dedicate their weekend to family and rest.

Email is generally the best way to handle business communication as there is a searchable record of the conversation for future reference.  So, I generally default to email but will retreat to text or phone call when needed.

When to Text

Texting is the communication medium that is abused the most in business.  The problem with texting for business-related purposes is that you cannot delay a response easily.  Once you open a text, you cannot mark it as unread and come back it later.  So, things are easily overlooked and forgotten.

I hate forgetting things.  So, if a text comes through that I cannot immediately respond to, I send it to myself as an email.  Although this works, it would have been much better for both parties if the conversation was initiated over email to begin with.

So, you may be wondering if there even is a good time to text, and the answer is yes.  Need a quick, short response that doesn’t require the person on the other end to do research?  Send a text.  Need to tell your client or colleague that you have arrived at the meeting place?  Send a text.

It is really a matter of respecting the person on the other end.  Text messages interrupt things, whereas email can be checked at the other person’s convenience.  So, before you send a text, ask yourself, “Is this really important enough that I need to interrupt the other person?”

When to Call

Ah, the lost art of picking up the phone and making a call.  I have seen so many conversations go wrong simply because they took place through email, texting, or social media.  If you are addressing an issue at hand, need to offer correction, or any of the like, your voice needs to be heard.  There is so much that is missed by not being able to hear tone of voice.  So, if an email may come across as harsh, you should probably just pick up the phone instead.

In general, I am not a fan of business conversations taking place over the phone.  I prefer email as there is a searchable record for future reference.  However, the phone still has it’s purpose.  When a conversation requires extensive collaboration, there is no better way than to pick up the phone or meet in person.

Communication is something that should be continually improved.

There will never be a time when we get communication down pat.  Mistakes will be made, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn from it and become a better communicator.