Written communication has been around for as long as time itself, and as recent as email is, this type of written communication is far from a new concept. When it comes to communicating with customers, there still seems to be some confusion about when to use it and how to ensure the right message is delivered. There are no hard and fast rules for written communication, but there are some definite dos and don’ts.
The majority of miscommunication in written correspondence occurs because of the absence of non-verbal cues. When communicating face to face or via telephone, we deliver context via non-verbal cues. These non-verbal cues may include body movements, eyebrow-raising, facial expressions or the tone in your voice. When drafting written communication, the absence of these non-verbal cues leads to miscommunication, false assumptions, unconscious bias, and unnecessary conflict.
In property management land, we often say the phone is used for building relationships and email for communicating information. The latter is vital to seek instructions from the landlord or tenant and ensure these are saved, should it be needed for future reference. The pitfall in this approach is that emails are used to draft and seek instructions on complex activities such as lease renewals, rent arrears and expensive capital maintenance such as air conditioners and hot water systems.
When pitching complex or expensive proposals to a landlord, you would often hedge the type of response you may get from a landlord and have at least two or three different scenarios prepared, depending on how the conversation would go. In most cases, you have no idea how the landlord will receive this information. Complex information shouldn’t be delivered by email as you lose control of the narrative. This should be done via the telephone, and then an email can be sent confirming the conversation on the phone. Your non-verbal cues, such as the tone of your voice, have already framed the discussion and given it the correct context preventing any confusion.
Attempting to use tone in your written correspondence may also be a mistake. You may be clear on the tone you are influencing the document. However, that tone may be received in different ways depending on the reader. The reader may find the communication offensive even though no offence was intended. Also, stay away from sarcasm or jokes in written communication with customers as often, what you may find amusing, you customer will not.
When communicating with customers, I find it easier to leave written correspondence to quick updates, short yes or no questions or confirmation of a previous phone call. I find it easier to use generic office templates to ensure the message is constant and no ambiguity presents itself. For more complex situations, pick up the phone and explain the process to gauge your customers’ response.