Following a recent keynote I delivered, somebody asked me why an innovation guy like me would still be using a device as passé as a BlackBerry. "Two words," I responded: "No typos."
Viva keyboards! I went on to say how tired I was of receiving business e-mails with the "cute" disclaimer, "Please excuse the typos." I always want to respond, "Excuse me for taking my business to a company that values accuracy of information and delivery as much as I do."
Glib? Too harsh? Neither one. Would it be okay for your technology partners to say, "Please excuse the random mistakes, but the data is mostly correct." Is it okay for an airline to say, "Sorry, we got the day right but we typo'd the time, so you've missed your flight."
Obviously, these excuses would be unacceptable. So why tolerate mistakes in your e-mails?
Michael Eisner, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, pointed out that your company's reputation, or brand, "is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures."
So exactly what is the brand message you're sending when you let customers know that your brand of service includes typos?
Don't let sloppy communication be your brand.
A related e-mail problem I've often encountered arises from the common complaint: "I regularly send e-mails to my team leaders or store managers, but they never seem to read them. What else am I supposed to do?"
One suggestion I often provide is, "Don't write them. Or at least, not so many and not so often." You know the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
This comment usually elicits perplexed reactions – furrowed brow, furious rubbing of the temples, and a questioning stare that asks if I'm really advocating a return to the Stone Age. But think about it. Business success hinges on working with, managing, influencing and, above all, selling to people – and yet we keep choosing e-mail, the most impersonal means of communication available to us today.
The disconnect could not be more glaring.
Even when Walmart founder Sam Walton was the richest man in the world, he would still climb into his propeller plane and fly himself from store to store to greet team members and customers. He understood interpersonal communication, and the power that comes from speaking with your whole body: eyes, mouths, ears and even handshakes.
I understand that, as small business owners, we can't all fly ourselves around the continent. But we can certainly mix up the way that we communicate with our customers and team members on a regular basis. Yes, there are e-mails and social media, but there are also powerful personal tools such as person meetings, the telephone, and even Skype and video conferencing.
You need to find and deploy the very best communication tools and customer experiences for your business – because building team and customer loyalty is getting harder and harder. Competition is increasing, attention spans are shrinking and consumers are more willing than ever to try something new.
Don't make it easy for customers to take their business elsewhere. Keep things personal. Saying "no" in person or to somebody you know is much more difficult than deleting a message on your smartphone.
Here's the interpersonal communications hierarchy I recommend for you and your team when communicating with each other or with customers.
· For simple, fact-based communications, use e-mail
· Use the phone for issues-based discussions
· Conduct new or forward-looking discussions face-to-face
So many companies that I work with fail to grasp this essential truth: in business, communication is king. Don't be sloppy. Take the time to truly engage your team and customers, and they in turn will be much more likely to engage with you.
Ken Tencer is chief executive officer of branding and innovation company Spyder Works Inc. and the co-author of two books on innovation, including the bestseller Cause a Disturbance. Follow him on Twitter at @90per centrule.