By Jeff Fortney
Recently, I had a need for a local mover. As I identified movers I was interested in talking with, they typically provided the opportunity to complete an online form requesting a call to discuss. I would then receive a confirmation email saying something like, "Thank you for your inquiry. We will be in touch shortly." In most cases, I received a call the same day. We discussed my need, and they emailed me a proposal – an acceptable approach in today's digital world. However, one experience stood out, and not in a positive way.
I had used my cell phone as a contact number. Instead of the confirmation email, I received a text asking how they could assist. I responded that I preferred discussing it with them, and they responded that they could move quicker if I just sent them a text with my needs. I stopped responding.
The texts I received were not rude or over the top. They were professional. But what they missed was that I specifically said I preferred a call and wanted to discuss the situation. I wanted to have a conversation.
It's not that I am opposed to alternative forms of communication, like texting, emails and various instant messaging apps, as well as social media. I just feel we have forgotten to use the most valuable tool we all have in our toolbox: the telephone, and more specifically, the smartphone.
Typically, I'm considered an early adopter when it comes to technology. I had my first car phone in 1989 and even had a Motorola Flip phone in the early 1990s. I text and use email regularly. I encourage merchant level salespeople (MLSs) to leverage all this technology. They can be powerful tools in sales and retention.
In addition, these forms of communication have become the mode of choice for younger generations (and even older generations; my wife would rather text than call anyone). They can't be ignored if you are going to be successful.
The problem arises when they become a crutch to avoid conversations or are used instead of conversations. Text messages may say specifically what you want to say (albeit in abbreviated form) but many aspects of a real-time, verbal conversation are missing.
Yet some processors have dispensed with such conversations and now rely exclusively on electronic communications. You have an issue that needs attention? Open an online ticket, and they'll respond within 24 hours. Have an emergency? Use a form of instant messaging on the webpage.
This makes me wonder, how many of the tickets became emergencies because there was no conversation? How do you diagnose a problem without a conversation? Words alone do not make a conversation.
Conversations allow us to determine the emotions behind questions or concerns. We can hear frustration, confusion, and even anger, that is not discernable in text form. Much is revealed in tone of voice. You can literally answer a question, but the tone in the way it is presented may change your tone, and even the words used in response. You can diffuse a situation with the proper tone, even when the question does not have a positive answer.
We avoid conversations for several reasons. Text messaging enables us to act quickly and move on to something else, thus saving time. This is especially true if it's a routine question in need of a simple, straightforward answer.
But the most common reason to use text is that a text doesn't require emotional involvement. And that is where the biggest error is made. For emotional involvement allows us to show concern and demonstrate how important the other party is to our success. You can type words, but you can't show more than clumsy, stock approximations of emotion (think emojis) in texts.
Also, merely answering or returning a call is not a conversation. You must be committed. You cannot multitask. Handling a conversation, whether negative or positive, is an art form. You have to do more than listen to the words; you must listen to the tone, emphasis and word choice. You must listen for the emotion. Is the individual happy or upset? Does the person sound frustrated?
In turn, you need to adapt your tone to theirs. That doesn't mean becoming upset if the caller is upset or frustrated. You just need to provide the requisite support in your approach. For example, if the person is frustrated, you need to demonstrate your concern and show a commitment to easing the frustration. The same applies to other emotions.
The smartphone has great value to ISOs and MLSs. They can research a merchant from a parking lot. They can respond immediately to emails and texts they receive. And they can reach out and call someone. That may be the best function of all.
Jeff Fortney is senior vice president of business development and partnerships for TouchSuite LLC, a fintech company providing POS systems, payment processing, SEO solutions, working capital and marketing services to small and midsize businesses. A long-time payments industry professional and mentor, Jeff focuses on strengthening and developing corporate partnerships and evaluating new business to drive strategic growth. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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