When communicating with a customer, which is the best method or channel of communication: face-to-face, phone, or e-mail?

Face-to-face meetings provide an opportunity to create rapport and expand relationships far better than phone or e-mail. Meetings in-person are rich with social cues such as body language, which can help you understand the other party’s emotions or reactions. I have seen studies that suggest that as much as three times the information is communicated in-person when compared to e-mail communication. Thus, nothing beats face-to-face meetings when you are creating relationships.

If the relationship already exists, then phone and or e-mail can be efficient choices. Phone communication is effective when problems exist with an existing relationship and when emotions may be involved. These emotions can get lost or distorted in an e-mail. Phone is a great way to maintain a relationship (i.e. let’s catch up).

Yet, in the new millennium, e-mail communication reins supreme. Many selling situations are relegated to e-mail; this includes the first meeting with a prospective customer. E-mail is different in that it can give all parties a chance to think about their responses and to be more exact. Oddly enough, some studies have shown e-mail communication to be more blunt or aggressive; it can be heaven for passive-aggressive types. You know who I mean; these are the folks that can’t say it to your face, but will gladly “flame you” in an e-mail with multiple other parties copied.

E-mail is convenient and quick, but it can also be misunderstood and cause significant problems when communicating with customers. Missing from e-mails are all the social cues of a face-to-face meeting including eye contact, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and smell (remember, we are still mammals). Without these cues it is difficult to discern the true meaning of the e-mail.

E-mails are easily misunderstood because of the lack of social cues and because the authors often will only think about themselves (and not about the reader). Also, e-mail can be prone to impulsivity and errors, which is somewhat like face-to-face communication, but without the feedback from the other party.

A few tips about e-mail communication:

• You never know who will read your e-mail; it could be passed on to another recipient. Write the e-mail for everyone to read.
• Sarcasm is a very poor choice in e-mails; the humor can be misinterpreted or lost.
• One way to “proof” your e-mails is to read them aloud to yourself as if you were the recipient. This might help you detect a “faux pas” before you hit the send key.
• Have someone else proofread your e-mail; they might save you from making a major error.
• Never send an e-mail in haste or when you are angry; instead save it and look at in a few hours. You may be surprised how you will need to rewrite it.
• Be sure to insert friendly words in your e-mail such as “thanks”, “it was a pleasure to meet you”, “I appreciate you”, etc.

When in doubt, call the customer instead of sending an e-mail; better yet, go see the see them in-person.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.
Please visit my website at www.firstbestordifferent.com

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