Although quick, is texting too casual for business communications?
First there were smoke signals; then came the Internet and smartphones—with a handful of different communication methods in between. The world went from hand-mailed letters—jokingly known today as “snail mail”—and faxes to email and text messages. With modern technology and information conveniently available in the palm of one’s hand, business communication is expected to be delivered in near real time, and texting makes this possible; for many individuals, the ideal buyer experience includes the use of text messaging.
“Clients want an immediate response, and texting is an immediate and direct way to grab an agent’s attention.”
According to the Velocify by EllieMae study Great TEXTpectations: The Text Messaging Playbook for Sellers released earlier this year, texting is the second most preferred method of communication for most kinds of messages—and its popularity among consumers is growing. The International Smartphone Mobility Report found that smartphone users in the United States initiate and receive five times as many texts as phone calls each day. But is texting appropriate for business communication, or is it considered to be too casual? Imagine receiving the title of this article as a message from a business associate or client.
Five hundred individuals participated in the study, and while Great TEXTpectations involved the mortgage industry, previous Velocify by Ellie Mae research has shown that results from similar studies are applicable across most consumer industries. The largest group of respondents was Millennials at 46%; GenXers made up 26% and Baby Boomers 25%.
Some key findings of the survey were that “sellers are aware of the growing potential of text messaging, and more than half (58%) say that text messaging is the most underrated or underutilized communications channel. And though only 28% of sellers always or nearly always use text messages, nearly all (95%) agree that texting does, or at least has the potential to, speed up the sales process.”
So how is texting used for business? The survey results show that texting is used most often “when there’s something important and urgent to share and when having trouble communicating through other channels.” Seventy-three percent of those who use texting do so during business hours, 49% after business hours and 23% prior to business hours. Eighty-one percent use their personal cell phones, while 23% use company-provided ones.
“We text before and after office hours,” says Justin M. Smith, CIC, an agent at Hummel Winters Insurance in Milan, Indiana. “We need to be accessible to our clients on their timeframe to remain competitive in this ever-changing marketplace.”
“Texting allows for the quickest response time. If I know the answer, I can respond immediately from just about anywhere.”
The Harry A. Koch Co.
“Sometimes clients are tied up during working hours and will follow up after hours,” adds Taylor Schoen, CIC, a producer at Hoosier Associates, Inc. in Oxford, Indiana. “After hours, I’ll usually shoot them a text if the message is important, or if it’s something I might forget by the time I get back into the office.”
“Since I only have a few clients that I text with, I am fine with exchanges outside of normal business hours,” says Lori Ruzicka, an account executive at The Harry A. Koch Co. in Omaha, Nebraska. “The number of texts I currently receive is manageable, but if texting becomes the norm with more clients, it will feel more like an invasion into my personal time and make it difficult to have much-needed downtime.”
“I used to be available to clients by text 24/7/365,” adds Nick Khamarji, founder of Ronoco—a Connecticut-based tech startup—and principal at New England Insurance, “but while I want to be available for my clients all the time, it drove me nuts trying to keep my work and personal lives in balance.”
As texting becomes a preferred method of communication, businesses are reacting accordingly. “Over the past five years, 73% of sellers increased their use of text messaging, a higher increase than for any other channel,” according to the Velocify survey. “More importantly, 87% of seller respondents say they will increase the use of text messaging over the next five years.”
Text messaging is said to speed up the sales process based on consumers’ response time. Survey results showed response times of less than 10 minutes to various channels:
- Direct mail—17%
“Clients want an immediate response, and texting is an immediate and direct way to grab an agent’s attention,” says Khamarji.
Schoen ranks texting as his quickest response method, followed by email and then phone calls. Smith agrees: “Especially when out of the office, I will reply more promptly to a text or a phone call over an email or other method of communication. It has been my experience that clients generally expect a more immediate resolution when texting or calling versus email.”
Adds Ruzicka: “Texting allows for the quickest response time. If I know the answer, I can respond immediately from just about anywhere. I check emails periodically, but texts are immediately visible. Also, the number of texts I receive is far fewer than emails received, which allows them to stand out.”
“After hours, I’ll usually shoot them a text if the message is important, or if it’s something I might forget by the time I get back into the office.”
—Taylor Schoen, CIC
Hoosier Associates Inc
The popularity of texting brings up the question of whether it will become a more preferred method of business communication than email. According to the survey: “Previous research established that all buyers, regardless of age, have a strong preference for more online and digital interaction with their seller. Emailing is becoming less popular, and the number of consumers who find email intrusive has grown over the past 5–10 years.”
The preferred method of communications for this month’s contributors is across the board.
“Email is my preferred method,” says Smith. “Using Outlook to view my email, my calendar and management system are integrated so I can easily create tasks, appointments and follow-ups as well as attach documentation for E&O purposes. I also find that in today’s environment I have more flexibility in prioritizing action items with email.” Khamarji agrees, stating that he still “live(s) in my email inbox.”
According to Schoen: “I prefer phone calls as I feel they are more personal, and I can get more information quickly. But there’s also a time when texting and emailing become more efficient throughout the day for both agent and client. It allows everyone to respond at their convenience.”
“I prefer texting when it can be used for a simple, quick exchange; if only I could complete most of my work in this fashion,” adds Ruzicka. “Unfortunately, most of my work requires more thought and detail than can be encompassed in a text exchange. Phone calls are a great way to exchange information and ideas more efficiently than email exchanges, which can be beneficial for documenting phone conversations.”
While most consumers believe that a phone call is the most acceptable method for urgent and important messages, text messaging is ranked second; it’s also ranked second for non-urgent messages.
According to the survey, nearly half of buyers (44%–46%) believe it’s appropriate to text for each of the following reasons:
- Appointment reminders
- Missing document notifications
- Deadline reminders
- Status updates
- Urgent and important notifications
- When having trouble connecting through other channels
Fewer think it’s appropriate to text for the following reasons, but a growing proportion of people have become open to the idea:
- Promotions or special programs
- Happy birthday wishes
- Just to say hello
The reason for texting “depends on the client,” says Smith, “but I generally use it to confirm appointments, follow up on action items or quickly obtain a specific piece of information.”
Schoen uses texting to provide vehicle information and quote info as well as meeting reminders and birthday wishes.
Another question is whether it’s appropriate to send a text message as the initial point of contact.
According to the Velocify report Text Messaging for Better Sales Conversion, sending three or more purposeful text messages after contact has been made with a prospect can increase conversion rates by as much as 328%. Text messaging before establishing a relationship via phone, however, has been shown to adversely affect both contact and conversion rates; doing so decreased the likelihood of ever reaching that prospect by 39%, according to the study. This may be why only 20% of sellers reported texting prior to making phone contact, while the majority (68%) text after initial contact has been established.
Among those who prefer not to text at all, 56% had compliance concerns, 50% had no convenient tool available for texting, and 34% didn’t want to use their personal cell phone for business communication.
“We need to be accessible to our clients on their time frame to remain competitive in this ever-changing marketplace.”
—Justin M. Smith, CIC
Hummel Winters Insurance
“I believe texting is widely accepted in the business world, but I would first verify that it’s an acceptable form of communication with your client; never assume,” says Smith.
“Texting could be inappropriate if you initiate and the responder is not comfortable communicating in that fashion,” says Ruzicka. “For me, it’s a matter of knowing my clients and finding the most effective way to communicate in each scenario.”
“I try to limit text messaging whenever possible; I think it’s a liability for agents trying to quickly manage sales and service on the go,” says Khamarji. “The intention is good and we all want to be available to our clients, but I think agents expose themselves to potential liabilities via text messaging. It can be appropriate to text a client about a meeting time, but agents should be cautious when texting about sales and service.”
By Christopher W. Cook