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The Chat Shop

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5 Key Language Rules for Live Chat and Text Based Tech

7/12/2012

1. Choose the correct formality

There’s a big difference between texting a mate and a work related email. That’s why there should be a big difference between the formalities of your messages in these situations. Formality doesn’t just mean mind your Ps and Qs and use Mr/Mrs X when sending a message to your boss or over live chat. It’s also all about the main content points of your message and the grammar and spelling you write it with.

Unless your boss specifically engages this type of conversation, you shouldn’t go talking about your latest fishing trip or when you are off drinking beer with the lads; you need to keep it to the point and keep it work related.

With punctuation it’s basically a case of you’ve got to keep it legible, a long email without punctuation takes some reading. And if it is an external message, punctuation must be perfect to keep up that look of professionalism. With your friends from outside of work or your Facebook status you can make it as informal as you like, but again I guess it has to be legible in some way or there is just no point posting it.

2. Lack of body language must be made up for…with politeness

Whether you are talking to a customer through a live chat or just texting a colleague or friend, there is a certain lack of body language going on between the two of you. Well, unless you are texting each other from the same room, there is no body language being communicated at all! Body language is however very important in human communication, it makes up the majority of it.

So how do you make up for this in text based communication? The main rule of thumb is to try and not get in heated discussions or emotional conversations over these tech based communicators.

However what if it is not you that has started this conversation? What if you are communicating over live chat and it is a disgruntled customer trying to make a complaint? Well at the end of the day the best thing to always start with is a quick response and a simple sorry, but you shouldn’t stop at that, you should also really try to connect with the customer by showing them empathy and if necessary, accept accountability. Then you should set about attempting to mend the relationship through your hardest attempts at resolving their problem and improving their situation.

Don’t forget that with all text based quibbles or heated discussions, writing in a polite tone and with a smile on your face (they can’t see it but it will affect your mood and writing) keeps both you and the other person calm.

3. Think before you engage

When you are not communicating in person it isn’t always easy to tell when someone has finished having their say or telling their story. That pause in the stream of messages could just be them retyping some poor grammar or answering the phone before finishing answering you. It always is difficult to tell when the person has finished, and there is no hard and fast rule to making the right decision; but what you can do is make sure your counter message is framed in the right way, to avoid any upset or confusion.

The problem in a lot of cases occurs when you know that it is a multiple chunked message. It’s point after point or question after question in paragraph after paragraph. If you don’t start getting your messages on the board in these situations though, you will never slow the other person down. Of course you can’t reply back about the latest post as this may have a big annexe message joining it soon and then your message may make no sense at all. The tip is to work from the beginning of their messages and try to frame a sensible response from there. Keep an eye on the new messages that keep appearing though as this will help you frame the message you are writing. And don’t be tempted to machine gun fire your messages back, try to keep it to a big chunk to avoid further crossing of telephone wires.

(Of course when using anything that lets you know when the other person is typing, e.g. live chats, it’s a wise idea to just obey the obvious signal and wait until they have definitely finished).

4. Reread what you have written before you hit send

This is actually probably the biggest advantage of text based tech; the ability to stop yourself from accidentally putting your foot in it. When we write messages we can of course be forgiven for letting our emotions get the better of us, it happens in face-to-face situations so it’s only natural for it to happen with text based tech communicators. With technology though we have the wonderful opportunity to reread what we have written and delete and rewrite before we hit send.

A momentary rush of emotions isn’t however the only reason to reread a message. Rereading can for example correct punctuation and tone (mentioned earlier as important), and can make you double check as to whether you really have the right content – did you answer what the other person was specifically asking? Or were you too general?

Taking an extra 30 seconds to reread a message won’t in anyway harm you but it could save an argument or save you from a lot more toing and froing of messages.

5. Respond as promptly as you can

When it comes to communication through text based technology it can be very tempting to just ignore an email with some work attached, pretend you haven’t seen a live chat message with a difficult question or delete a text from a friend you don’t fancy seeing. We are more tempted to do this just because the other person probably can’t tell that you are just being rude, unlike if you were doing these things whilst face-to-face with them.

However it is very important to maintain communication etiquette in these situations. The one main selfish reason for doing so is that this other person will no doubt continue to pry until you do reply, so waiting to makes very little difference. Also if you continue to blissfully ignore your messages it will no doubt end with you also receiving slower replies from your disgruntled friends and colleagues in the future.

Sometimes the main reason for a slow or non-existent response is of course the simple fact of not knowing the answer to a question or not being able to do something that someone is requesting. In these situations it is again best to respond as promptly as you can. Although you may not have the answer they are looking for, you can at least send them an apology and let them know that you can’t do a certain something but might be able to if you are given a little more time. If you simply don’t bother replying until waiting a week’s time, saying then that you can’t do it, it’s unlikely that they will believe you.

- Blog post by Miles Hobson

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