Electronic Etiquette - Manners for Modern Day Communication

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"Voice mail is the death of customer service." Is this phrase as true as it was five years ago? Apparently not. Electronic E-mails, video conferences, speakerphones and cellular/portable phones and yes, voice messages - all these have become common - if not preferred - means of communication in the modern business world. However, easier and faster does not always mean better or acceptable, no matter how many people do it. No matter how hi-tech the medium, because we are ultimately communicating with other people, common sense and courtesy are still expected.

Voice Mail and Answering Machines:

If you have ever had to wait through a long-winded message, you know how annoying it can be. When setting up your voice mail or answering machine, keep it short and simple. Record the outgoing message in your own voice. Keep it businesslike but pleasant. The caller assumes you're sorry you missed his or her call without being told. Do not include comments about personal or religious beliefs that may offend a caller/client. And finally, avoid cliches such as "Have a nice day" - a brief message in a pleasant tone will do the job.

When leaving a message, don't assume the caller will recognize your voice. State your name and when appropriate the number where you can be reached and your company name. Some systems automatically record when you called, but you may want to state the date and time if you feel it is important. Speak clearly and slowly, and keep your message brief.

Speakerphones:

If you prefer conversing via speaker phone, remember to ask the caller for permission before you activate the speaker function. And keep in mind that everyone within hearing distance may hear the conversation whether or not they should. When using a speakerphone to conduct a meeting (or a conference call), always introduce all the participants or even all those present, since the person on the other end of the line cannot see who else is in the room. Not only is this good manners, it can also prevent embarrassing situations.

Video Conferencing:

Listen carefully - a half-second delay in transmission can be confusing. Keep in mind that their view of you is limited, and that excessive movement and some gestures may not be visible on their screen. At the same time, behave as though everyone is in the same room - you are not invisible and the person(s) at the other location(s) are not deaf. If you learn about the video conference ahead of time, try not to dress in stripes, because it may cause video image distortion. Light blue is the optimal color to wear.

Mobile/Cellular Phones:

People's tolerance toward the use of cell phones in public places is constantly fluctuating. Recently, New York's City Council voted to ban the use of cell phones at public performances, and it remains to be seen if this will set a precedent. When you accept an incoming call while with someone else, realize that the other person may not appreciate the interruption of his or her time with you. A client especially may feel a position of "second place" in this situation. Also, when you conduct business within hearing distance of other people someone may overhear information not meant for their ears. Last but not least, be careful of what you say - someone with more curiosity than ethics may hone in and listen.

E-mail:

One down side of E-mail is that it can make an important message seem informal and unimportant. When E-mailing about work, remember to still maintain the tone of a business correspondence - keep it businesslike! Other key points are: always include a subject line, don't use all-uppercase letters (making it seem you are yelling at the reader), check your grammar and spelling (this reflects on you, even in e-mail), sign off with your name, company name (if applicable) and a phone number.

If your E-mail is a reply, even though the subject line will provide a general reference, include enough information to ensure the recipient can quickly identify the reply. It is not always necessary to include the entire original message in your answer.

Do not be upset if you do not receive an answer immediately. People have other responsibilities besides reading E-mail. If you require an immediate response, it may be best to simply pick up the telephone and call the person.

And last but not the least, avoid communicating in anger whenever possible. It's understandably very tempting when speaking to a machine or dashing out a message on your computer keyboard because you are not face to face with the other person. A knee-jerk message could cause a great offense. You may wish you had not left the angry words on someone's voice mail or so quickly sent that sarcastic e-mail message. The answering machine or computer will not respond to your angry message - but the recipient probably will. One way to ensure the appropriateness of your correspondence is to wait a few minutes after typing it out, and then reading it carefully one more time before sending it.

No matter how sophisticated communication technology becomes, the two end-users will always be human - the sender and the recipient, the caller and the person being called, you and the other person or people. Remembering one's manners is not only polite - in business, it can mean the difference between a satisfied or dissatisfied customer/client - even failure and success.

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