Today, I'm answering the question of why I don’t recommend conducting business through text messaging (Texts) or Direct Messaging (DMs). Anybody who has been with me for a while knows I’m not anti-text messaging, but I am anti doing business through text message.
I want to be clear as to what I'm talking about because that's a very generalized term. So, does that mean that you shouldn’t give out your business number? No, most business numbers can accept texts and I don't ignore texts that come through on my business line or in DMs. What I'm referring to is running your entire business through text messaging or DMs. Meaning your customers informally negotiate and communicate with you through text message and DM only. That is what I am totally against.
You can get your e-mail on your mobile phone, so even if you like to do business on the go, it’s much better to have those types of conversations through an e-mail rather than a text. Depending on how your phone is set up or categorized, you may not have a name associated with the number that is messaging you. You also may not receive an adequate time/date stamp.
This is important when conducting business as you should always keep the possibility of litigation in mind and reduce your risk whenever possible. We never want to think about getting sued, but the truth is there is always a possibility. Will your text or DM communication stand up better than an email chain? The Judge Judy in me says no.
I would much prefer to have an email with header information that includes IP address, time date stamp of all sides of the conversation, recipient, sender, etc. on my emails. You can easily track the entire email thread as well. This is possible within most texting services, but it can get overly complicated based on speed of response and the device/service you are using.
The other thing to consider is that when people text you, you don't always get the full context of the conversation. Additionally, in e-mail most people use full sentences, punctuation and it is a lot more professional. You usually have a signature block with your contact information, or if you don't, I recommend that you add one to your emails today.
One suggestion is for you to create template gateways that you can use to lead people to your email or regular process. Your goal should be to engage and move. Engage people who message you, yet move them to the preferred method of communication, be that your website, email, your learning portal or your scheduler, etc. You can also create templates to provide these standard responses via text or DM.
So, for example, if a client contacts me via text or DM and says hey, I'd like to set up a meeting with you to talk about XYZ. I'm going to respond and say yes, that would be great. Here's my scheduling link for you to schedule an appointment. I do this because that's a quick way to get them into my ecosystem by providing the scheduling link. I'm not going to sit in a text message or DM and try to figure out a good date and time for us to meet or negotiate terms of our engagement. That can lead to a lot of confusion and frustration between parties, and you don’t want that with your customers.
Just imagine the frustration and confusion you have experienced when one person types faster than the other or the timing of their reply doesn’t coincide with your response. You read the message wrong or you respond to one thing and they think you’re responding to something else. Then you try to clarify and it’s a confusing mess.
The key is to ensure that you are directing your customers, no matter how they come to you, through the same process so that everybody has the same experience. This also helps to eliminate gaps in your onboarding process too.
When someone contacts you via text or DM asking questions about your business or services, you want to have a standard response that you can tweak easily but leads them to a specified place. For example, most of the questions that people ask I’ve compiled into my FAQ page on my website. So, when I’m asked a question I know has been responded to there, I send the person a link to that page advising them that I believe it will answer their question. If the question isn’t on the sheet, I add the question and response to it prior to sending the link. That’s how I build out my frequently asked questions page and it teaches my customers/potential customers to check there first before asking questions.
Again, it's not trying to dissuade them from asking questions, but it is trying to lead them through the right channels so that everybody's getting the same experience no matter how they come to me.
If you’re out with friends or family and reading your texts and just responding quickly, there's no telling how you’re responding. Is person A’s response from you going to be the same as person B’s? In most cases, they are getting two different experiences and you don't want that.
The other thing is being able to cut off your workday versus your personal day. Again, most people's business line is on their cell phone. What do you do after business hours when you get a business text message? Do you feel obligated to respond at that time?
It’s important to establish boundaries with your clients. Identifying and sticking to your business hours even if you get messages on your phone after hours that you can quickly respond to teaches your client what to expect. Let’s say your office hours are until 8 pm on Thursday and a message comes in after that time. You should hold it until the following day when office hours are back in play or establish response expectations with your clients up front. This can be hard for some people, but you don’t want to get into the habit of being available 24 hours 7 days a week. You also don’t want to set yourself up for failure by not having a standard operating procedure.
Let's say you’ve been in this back and forth with your client via text or DM. At what point is it ok not to respond? Do you send them a last communication that informs them that you will get back to them the next day? What are the boundaries that you have set regarding when you will and won’t respond? You don’t want to inadvertently ghost your clients because you got busy in your activities and forgot to respond or record what you promised you’d do.
You can always set up an out of office message that shares that they have reached you during non-office hours with direction or info on when you will respond or how to get specific information. This of course assumes that you have a way to differentiate where the text messages are coming from. You wouldn’t want friends and family to get the automated message for your business.
If your text messaging service has an auto forward rule, you can have it set to forward all messages to your inbox. That way you can just respond from your email on the next day. I know Google Voice has this feature because one of my hearing impaired clients often sends me text messages, but I get them via email. When I respond to that email, it texts her back the response. I have a record in my email which ultimately is added to her CRM record. She also knows my schedule, so even if she sends a message late at night, she knows I typically respond first thing in the morning, at lunch or in the evening. Regardless I always respond in some way before 24 hours have passed, even if it is just to say I will respond later.
I have had clients fight me on implementing this rule in their business and they unfortunately learned the hard way. They come back and say, I wish I had listened to you. Now that their business has picked up, they are having to go back and re-establish boundaries with customers. I want to save you from that frustration and heartache by teaching you the right way to set up your processes in the beginning before you really need it. Your numbers may not show it now, but the more successful your business becomes the more appreciative you will be that you set things up the right way ahead of time.
We’ve all watched court dramas, whether real life or the Dick Wolf imaginary ones. The truth is, discovery is a real thing that you should be mindful of in your business. It is basically the proof that can be used in court to prove your case. Often, the Court will require you to give your opposition access to specific files to allow them time to review that information in search for the “smoking gun” that will help to prove their case (Note, I am oversimplifying here, but hopefully you get the point).
So, if you get called to court and they're wanting you to prove what you agreed to with your client or that you notified them promptly and clearly how easily can you do that via text message? Can a third party read the exchange and know exactly what is implied or meant by your words? If you can prove your standard mode of operations is to only conduct business through email, and you can show where you directed them to your email conversation it will be much easier to prove your case. Although forensics has gotten more sophisticated and can extract detailed information from your phone carriers, this requires money, warrants, and time. By creating a standard of operations, you not only protect yourself, but you also help to avoid the possibility of confusion and misinterpretation.
Now having said that, there are some business solutions and tools that are built on using text to communicate. Some business use cases that come to mind are reservation communication, which became even more popular during the pandemic; doctor office registration links, online ordering – order status and receipt delivery. This is a different lane from what I am talking about above.
The use of these tools is fine because there are terms and service agreements associated with your customer using the service. You will want to ensure you cover this in your business’ terms and conditions and any other appropriate policies you have. Some clients have even added fine print that states the account isn’t monitored so don’t respond, email XYZ@account.com instead.
If nothing else, be aware of the additional layers of risk using text messaging in your business opens up and determine what your plan of action will be going forward to protect yourself. I hope this answered your question about why I don’t recommend conducting business through text messages and DMs.
The Organized Holistically podcast strives to teach side-hustling solopreneurs how to manage a successful business and life using holistic systems. I help you develop, implement and streamline unique and organic processes and organizing systems. I do this by helping you identify the right systems and processes so you aren't spending money or time on unnecessary things and instead can spend that time and money focusing on the things that are most important to you, your family.