I just finished reading Henry Clifford’s blog from yesterday, “Do Your Clients Get Your Mobile Number?”. I know it was a good article because it was not only incredibly relatable—I firmly fall into the third category: “I don’t like getting texts (after hours) from my customers but I deal with it anyway”—but it also immediately got me thinking.
Henry used the initials CRM throughout his post, and I’ll admit to not even knowing what this was. I Googled it to discover it stands for Customer Relationship Management. When I think about companies that would utilize something like this, I picture large corporations, not companies like mine. I think our company is similar to many in the CEDIA channel where we fluctuate between four to six employees. And the CRM for us boils down to essentially me mostly handling my clients and my partner, Allen, mostly handling his.
The cellphone has opened up a world of technological possibilities, but it has also created a potential 24-hour tether between you and your clients. Prior to owning a cellphone, I imagine you rarely handed out your home phone number to customers, as it was information that most of them just didn’t need to be privy to. But with cellphones this has increasingly become a near expectation.
Choosing whether to give out your number or not can often be a slippery slope, especially when someone asks for it point blank. I often try a soft deflection of this, saying that I prefer to communicate via e-mail (truth). If, however, they push or seem put off by this answer, then I will offer my number.
Fortunately, most of our customers respect the boundaries of business and personal time, and honestly, I would really rather have a customer call me at night and have me (hopefully) resolve an issue for them instead of them not having a working system and then stewing on it for 12 or more hours only to call and explode on us the next morning during business hours. (I covered this topic already in “Client-Induced Stress: Our Industry’s Silent (Joy) Killer.”
One of Henry’s suggestions was that we develop a communication system with clients based around texting. Now, depending on the issue, a text can be the perfect vehicle for communication. And if any of my clients would ever like to shoot me a text along the lines of, “Hey, John! Give me a call tomorrow to go ahead with that new 4K projector install! ☺”, then my line is open at all hours for your texting needs!
Another perfect client texting opportunity would be to ask you to set up a service call for them. “I think my remote/Blu-ray/TV/receiver is broken. Can you call me tomorrow to schedule a service call?”
For these types of one-sided interactions, I agree that a text would be the perfect delivery vehicle. In the age of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, people are more apt to act on something as soon as they think of it, and those, “Oh! I better do this before I forget!” things are perfect for a text.
The difficulty I see with texting is that most after-hours interactions are not this glib, but rather of the panic and anger-laced, “MY SYSTEM ISN’T WORKING!” variety, and these are usually not easily resolved with a series of texts. Usually they involve some questions from us to determine exactly what is or isn’t working—how often has “NOTHING IS WORKING!” turned out to be that the TV just didn’t power on or something equally minor?—followed by some questions about system status, and some suggestions to try and remedy the issue.
A massive back-and-forth text session not only takes longer, but it also is likely to be more frustrating to the client.
Henry also suggests that you’ll need to determine how you’ll offer texting; “Does everyone get to text you or only clients who’ve signed up for your support plans?”
The problem is, once your clients have your number, the genie is out of the bottle.
I suppose you could tell existing customers that already have your number that your company has started a new, premium, after-hours support/subscription plan, and that while you would be happy (or at least willing) to help them this time, for them to receive after-hours support in the future they’ll need to be in the plan. Of course, you’d want to follow-up the next day with a letter or email explaining the new policy and inviting them to enroll.
The final thing I don’t love about encouraging texting for client communication is that it’s just too easy—too easy for the customer to reach out on any whim, too easy to misconstrue or misinterpret tone or mood, and too easy to send off a poorly crafted response.
I think we are probably all willing to help a customer after hours for an actual crisis, and if a customer feels more comfortable initiating that with a text that can then be followed up with a phone call as needed, then so be it. Ultimately, we’re in the service business and we’ll need to gravitate towards—and master—the communication method our clients are most comfortable with.