Mobile Communications and Customer Service

I do love gadgets. I just got an Amazon Kindle and thoroughly enjoy the ability to carry several books in such a thin device. My Palm Treo is always at the ready for reading or sending emails, checking the news, and updating my calendar. I'm pretty sure that I'm just a few days away from trading in the Treo for an iPhone, which seems like the ultimate gadget.

But I think it's important to recognize that while these gadgets certainly increase our connectivity with others, they also have the potential to make our communications appear impersonal. What I'm really talking about here is the email function on whatever smartphone we've chosen. And in particular I'm talking about using the smartphone email function to communicate with customers - whether it's replying to their emails, setting up meetings, forwarding a document, etc.

Because it's more challenging to draft an email on a small, handheld device as opposed to a full-size keyboard, there's a tendency to make our communications brief and to the point - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But too often a smartphone-generated email morphs from brief to curt, or even rude. While not intentional, our attempts at being instantly accessible to customers and colleagues can sometimes backfire, creating ill-will or confusion - "Is she mad at me?" - because of an overly-brief communication. My guess is that you've been on the receiving end of such unintentionally brusque emails, causing you to wonder if you had somehow upset the sender.

That an email was sent from smartphone isn't always obvious. Yes, sometimes the email will state, "This communication was generated on my Blackberry...", but I think relying on that is a copout. Our customers don't necessarily care how an email was generated, nor should they, and I don't think it's worth the risk of a misunderstanding in order to save a few keystrokes.

No matter how we interact with a customer, it's important to see the communication through their lens. Just taking a moment to review an email before sending it (with the customer's lens in mind) may make you reconsider the tone of the message. Does it really convey the tone it should?

I'm not talking about creating long, flowery communications for the sake of being nice. I have enough trouble hitting the right keys on my Treo as it is. I'm simply talking about the tone with which we communicate with customers. Tone is important. And most smartphones even have instant insert buttons for the words "please" and "thank you," so we can even use technology to be efficiently courteous.

I remember reading somewhere that when sending an email you should think about what your grandmother would think of the wording. While that may seem a bit extreme at first, it's really not a bad idea to ask "What would Grandma think?" before hitting the send button.

Enough of my rant on the subject. I'm fully aware that some of my friends, upon reading this post, will send me smartphone-generated emails entirely in shorthand or the opposite, prose-filled, memory-busting tomes. I'm okay with it as long as this post makes some readers at least think about the email they're getting ready to shoot off to a customer.