The human resource head of a consumer electronics firm wrote a detailed email to his 500-member workforce that there was an urgent need for the staff to brush up their communication skills. This was in response to several clients and customers complaining about ‘improper communication’ and ‘informal channels’ being used.
He said in the email that, even though contacting vendors and customers had become tougher during remote working, it was no excuse for unprofessional behaviour. He reiterated that proper language and formal communication channels be used by all employees.
Amidst the work-from-home (WFH) scenario when the lines between professional and personal are blurring, there are rising instances of professionals using improper communication channels for contacting their customers and clients.
Take the company cited above. They had a system where sales managers would contact high-value clients/customers on a monthly basis to seek feedback about the product. Physical visits were done for this purpose but were stopped with the Coronavirus outbreak in March 2020.
Initially, employees sent emails and text messages but when there was a delay in getting a response, instant messaging apps started being used.
“We received complaints that employees were ‘chatting’ with clients, customers to seek product feedback on Facebook or WhatsApp. Due to this, we had to formally inform staff that these communication modes are not acceptable,” said the HR head quoted earlier.
This isn’t a one-off case. Moneycontrol spoke to at least a dozen human resource heads from sectors like banking/financial services, manufacturing and technology. The consensus was that there was a pressing need to stop this atmosphere of informality.
The human resource head at a private bank recounted how he had to hold a separate training session for sales managers to dissuade them from contacting customers on WhatsApp or send friend requests on Facebook.
“At the end of the day, they are our customers and not friends. In a few instances, customers could not be contacted for crucial information dissemination because they had ended up blocking all the bank-related numbers on their phone. This was a result of persistent messages by our sales stuff on their personal messaging applications,” he added.
On one hand there is a concern about improper communication channels, while on the other there is informality in the messaging as well.
“Hello dear, howz you. Is there any concern about the cookware you bought from us? Why did you rate us poorly? Would like to chat in detail”. This was the message that Aashima Pant, a Mumbai-based advertising professional received from the sales team of an e-commerce firm.
Pant felt that the description of the cookware was different and quality was also inferior. So she rated them as ‘poor’. What she didn’t expect was getting personal messages on WhatsApp about it, leading to her finally blocking all the three numbers from where she was being contacted. She filed a grievance with the company as well. While the company apologised for this incident, it added that sales executives were using personal devices due to WFH and it was tough to regulate some behaviour.
“It felt like a subtle threat and they were persistent trying to call me on video calls on WhatsApp, sending multiple chat messages at odd hours. If you want genuine feedback, send me a regular text message or an email. WhatsApp is only for communicating with friends and family,” she says.
According to Pant and several others, the dire need is for companies to ensure that formality remains intact in any communication with its clients/customers. This includes following a structure of which medium of communication to use, how should the messaging be and what time should these messages be sent. Even simple etiquettes like not using short forms like ‘r’ for ‘are’ or avoiding emojis in text messages need to be taught to ensure effective communication.
A formal training by HR teams could help since there could be employees from diverse backgrounds who wouldn’t be aware of the protocols to be used.
This is a necessity to ensure that professional relationships aren’t marred due to communication errors. Employees could often feel that this is an exaggeration and that one ‘hi dear’, or heart emoji/smiley sent to a customer wouldn’t be detrimental to business interests. But in reality, they could be.
As Akshay Lobo, a web designer from Bengaluru recounts an email from a luxury watch dealer saying ‘hi dear, hope you are staying mind positive and COVID-19 negative’, it may sound innocuous to the general public. But to Lobo who lost his grandfather to COVID-19, it sounded harsh. He decided to not go ahead with the purchase.
It is just a matter of perception. But one emoji, WhatsApp text or email could make or break your business.