By Karen Sams
Between email, text messages, social media, and chat based customer service, written communication has become more important than ever for small businesses. But good communication goes well beyond grammar when maintaining professionalism in your business’ written communications. Here are five things to keep in mind.
Email and text communication is only convenient if your responses are prompt. “Plan on looking at your emails every two hours and responding as quickly as possible,” says Andrea Pass, vice president of media relations at Marketing Maven in New York City. “This positions you in a positive light with clients and others awaiting your feedback.”
Delegating email responses to an assistant or dedicated customer service representative may be necessary if you are receiving a high volume of messages. As a general rule, the faster your response time, the better. But at a minimum, aim for response times no greater than 48 hours.
Long emails are overwhelming, and recipients may ignore or delay reading them. Be sure to keep written communication concise and save unnecessary details for face-to-face or phone communication. “Some business owners want to lay all the groundwork on who they are and what their companies and their products do before getting to the point,” says Bob Zeitlinger, managing director at Percussion Communications Group, a PR firm in New York City. “We’re all busy, and getting to the point is paramount in any written communication.”
Treat written communications as a marketing opportunity—make sure the recipient knows what to do next. “Business owners are frequently so concerned with how they describe their products or services that they fail to clearly and directly ask for what they want—that is, the reason for the letter or email in the first place,” Zeitlinger says. “Owners sometimes believe they just need to present information about their product or service, and any reasonable person should be interested.”
Instead, close your emails with a clear call-to-action or rundown of next steps. If you’d like to schedule an appointment face-to-face or on the phone, offer your availability. If you need more information, ask for it clearly.
Written communication can seem cold and impersonal if the writer doesn’t make an effort to connect with the reader. Beginning written communication with a personalized greeting sets a warmer tone and establishes a human connection with your customer or client.
We are often immune to our own mistakes in spelling and grammar. Reading your writing aloud can slow you down enough to catch mistakes. And, if an email is particularly important, take the time to enlist another person to proofread.
“Our motto: When in doubt, have someone else read it before you send it,” says Benjamin K. Walker of Transcription Outsourcing in Denver. “Because tone and body language are impossible to convey via email we are very careful with our emails. Even if you know someone you should be overly cautious. You never know if someone is having a bad day, and all of a sudden they are a former client who is now trash talking you to their colleagues over a misunderstanding from an email.”