It’s just past 11 p.m. on a Monday evening. The day has been long – many hours at the office followed by a quick workout and a couple of drinks with friends – and you thought almost over. Looking at the iPhone on the bedroom counter, you see a blue message.
“My wife’s sick and I have to take her to the doctor in the morning. Can we reschedule?”
You respond, first to the client and then to the Wall Street Journal reporter who agreed to the breakfast. Then it’s one text in response and good night.
For me, 2015 was the year of texting relationships with clients. Friends of mine who work in other parts of communications have been writing 140 character messages for years, but in general I felt the professional nature of financial services and financial technology meant keeping separate communications for work and friends.
No more. I’ve found it usually starts with a meeting. We typically exchange cell phone numbers when beginning a relationship, nominally so both sides can be reached off-hours. Someone (hopefully not me) will be running late to a meeting or be lost looking for an entrance. The meeting might have already started, so a phone call would interrupt and an email would be ignored. The text is sent.
Now that it is available, I find myself a convert to the client text. It’s particularly useful when out of the office, travelling between meetings or anywhere that composing a full email would be challenging. Texting saves time, and means someone else can get vital information earlier.
That’s not to say everyone is going to be thrilled if their communications consultant starts giving them counsel through emoji and GIFs. Here are some tips on how to guide this potentially precarious new business communications medium:
• Test the waters. The first text should be at a time when only a text will do. See if you get a response and how far the conversation continues after the first text. A simple “k” might mean the person isn’t thrilled you are texting.
• One-on-one communications: Texts are good for short, simple pieces of information or requests that need to be made between two people. Any time the action needs input from a third person or if something would be awkward to have been made off-line, take it to an email chain.
• Documentation: Your client should know about the firm’s requirements for data archiving and sharing. These might be tracked on a company phone or they may not be allowed. Keep in mind that just like emails, texts might be subpoenaed in a legal proceeding, so don’t say anything you don’t want out in public.
• International considerations: For groups spread across different phone networks and countries, texting can be significantly cheaper than other forms of communications. We recently communicated at our company offsite through WhatsApp, and I know teams with large Chinese components that are talking with WeChat. The money saved frequently pushes discussions of etiquette aside.
As ever, technology companies are leading the way, with more important memos being typed on iPads and Slack groups replacing webinars. For them, even having this conversation of texting clients might seem antiquated. They are already on to the next platform, and bringing their communications consultants with them.