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What works best? call, email, text, or …?

Should you call or email?

Whether you are in a customer facing role or simply professionally interacting with other people, I’m sure you have come across this question more than once: Should you call, text or email? This question has become even more present in our minds in the past few years, due to the rise of multiple communication channels and media which is becoming increasingly popular. Phone, text, email, instant messaging, video calls, video messages, etc. there are a plethora of options to choose from.
If you are like the majority of people, you have probably already made your mind and have adopted one or two channels and use them all the time, even when they are not the most suitable. You may have also come across hundreds of articles explaining why one is better than the other. If you are in sales, you probably have seen dozens of articles explaining why cold calling is not dead or why you should rather use phone calls for a more human interaction or should use emails for keeping track of your communications with your clients.

Call or Email? It Depends

The answer to this question, as you may have guessed, is that IT DEPENDS!

Yes, but on what?

The most sophisticated articles I have read on this subject are those that advise you to use each of these channels based on what you want to communicate. However I think that who you are communicating with is actually even more important than what you are communicating. Let’s start by covering these two factors first.

The WHAT: The content of your communication

You probably know that if you have a short communication, like informing about a situation, giving a status update, or similar one-direction communication, then the written communication is preferred. It’s simply because there is no reason to interrupt your counterpart or your client to inform a rather minor update. On the contrary, , communicating with a client that is not relying or dependent on others, and is able to give you the information by themselves and you may have a sequence of questions then a verbal communication or a communication through instant messaging is more appropriate.

Another example where the content of the communication should define the communication medium is when you want to keep track or proof of the communication. Have you noticed how attorneys always prefer written communication? On one hand, they want to force themselves to communicate in the most appropriate and legal way instead of saying something unprepared verbally, on the other hand they want to encourage the client to similarly communicate in writing. This way both parties keep track of the communication and will not be able to change their version of the facts.   Sometimes, the contrary is true- for instance, when the subject is too sensitive and you don’t find the words to write it down or are unsure of the consequences, that’s when you pick up the phone and you call. There are several other cases where you choose one way or the other based on the content or “the what”.

The WHO: The profile of your client

In my observation, the biggest mistake that most customer-facing people make, is not taking into consideration the client’s preferred channels. It’s not about your preference but there’s. If you care about your client, if you believe that the communication is always two-ways, if you are customer-centric, then you should always ask yourself this question: if I were in my client’s position, how would I prefer my sales person to contact me?

You can’t be a great customer-facing professional if you don’t know your audience. You need to know the profile of your client. And based on their profile, you need to choose one channel or another.

For instance, if you are calling on a tech executive or even a non-busy millennial you should avoid the phone call. These are two examples of profiles who don’t like receiving phone calls in general. Tech execs don’t like phone calls because they don’t want to be interrupted in what they are doing and they like filtering and giving thoughts before a phone call. Their phone calls are often scheduled. You don’t just call them. At best, you use an asynchronous communication channel (often email, sometimes text) to schedule a synchronous communication (phone call or video call). Most millennials are actually quite similar regardless of their availability. They prefer texting, instant messaging or emailing instead of calling through voice.

Most real estate agents are phone people; they like calling even to give you a status update that they could have perfectly given you with a one line text or email but there’s a high chance they call you. Doctor office and hospital staffs are often the same. Now, if you are in sales and you are communicating based on your preferred medium, instead of your client’s preference, then you are doing it wrong. There’s a higher chance your client will get frustrated, and you will lose them in the long run.

The balance of the relationship will be naturally found if each side makes the effort of understanding the other side. I am amazed to see when such basic common sense is so often misunderstood and overlooked by individuals, as well as large corporations.

Your healthcare insurance rep or provider is often trained to call you. They even use automated call systems. What a disaster! I can’t believe that there are still so many automated calling systems regardless of the profile of the clients that they perfectly know. They could very well send their message about an appointment reminder by email or by text which is not intrusive, but they often call and invade your private temporal space. It interrupts you in the middle of your meeting or work. Organizations that allow you to choose your preference on your profile page are starting to emerge, but they are still very rare. Same story at the doctor’s offices and dental practices. So my point is: don’t be like them. Don’t interrupt your clients when you just want to inform them about something or want to remind them of a meeting.

The HOW (synchronicity, visual-ness …)

Another question we should ask ourselves that helps us choose the best channel is if the communication would be more efficient in a synchronous or asynchronous way. In a synchronous communication the client has to pause their actual activity and interact with us, while in an asynchronous communication, they choose freely when to interact with us; that is whenever they have some free time or during the time they have allocated to this type of interactions. This goes back to the “WHO” above. If your client has no clue about time management, they will definitely not mind being interrupted. But if they do, then they’ll hate being called in the middle of something. In that case, even if your pitch is potentially of value to them, you have sent a negative impression of yourself.

In several examples above, like the healthcare appointment reminder, it’s clear that an asynchronous communication is preferred. While in a sensitive communication with a client, we may prefer the communication to be synchronous so that we can adapt our tone and even the content of our message, based on the flow of the conversation, the client’s mood and perceived emotions.

Another aspect of the “HOW” is how rich do we need the synchronous communication to be. The most basic synchronous communication is instant messaging. Instant messaging doesn’t deliver emotions. That’s why we invented emojis as a remedy. It works a bit better, but it’s far from being as rich as a phone call where we have the tone of the sound, and other audio perceptions.

Phone calls have been the number one communication tool since they were invented, and they are equally relevant and important to date. But they no longer offer the richest communication channel. Video calls beat them easily, because now you are engaging in multiple senses at once. Where a phone call evokes your sense of hearing, a video call also includes your sense of sight, increasing the impact that it can have on the receiver. Phone calls to video calls are just as poor as instant messaging to phone calls. Phone calls add audio to instant messaging, and video calls add visualization to phone calls. You can see your client’s office environment, body language, facial expressions and more. From your side, if you are a fun person, smiling, pleasant to deal with, and well presented, then you are able to leverage your personality in a video call.

The benefits of video calls were known before the Covid-19 era, but they got appreciated and the usage became even more mainstream since then. A 2018 study found that users of video calls had approximately half the probability of depressive symptoms at two-year follow-up compared to non-users and users of email, social media, and instant messaging.

Finally, a tool which deserves to be used more often is the video message. In many cases it can replace the email. It’s asynchronous, non-invasive and non-interruptive while transmitting more than just a cold impersonal email. It’s enriched with the human-factor.. Give it a try.

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