I’m sure that it is obvious that email is a big deal for me. So much communication, both personal and business takes place through this medium – and I think, no, I know, that we tend to not give it the respect it deserves. Had another experience this week with the training company.

I received a lead for two advanced level classes from a company I was, quite honestly, surprised to hear from. We had done a class for them over a year ago that had not gone well. There was plenty of blame on all sides of that equation – meaning they made some mistakes and so did I and the instructor. But these things happen and I felt we got the best resolution we could at the time. But I hadn’t expected to hear from them again. When I did, I wanted any instructor responding to the new opportunities to know that there was some history there. So, along with the details about the current opportunities I wrote:

“Our client is another training company. You will be vetted by that company before being presented to the end client. You should also know that the last CTI instructor used by this training company did not do a good job according to them. Consequently, and to be honest with you, you will be put under a
microscope relative to your subject knowledge. If you feel in the slightest that you’re not up to advanced level training on either of these topics, please be honest with me and decline the opportunity.”

One instructor did respond saying he felt qualified to do advanced training on one of the topics, but he was curious as to what had happened in the incident mentioned above. I thought that was a fair question so I gave him more detail on the situation, including mentioning the topic that was taught. He came back and said he knew nothing about that topic and therefore wouldn’t be a good fit for the opportunity.

At this point I was puzzled. What made him think that the new opportunities outlined in the email he had responded too had anything to do with the previous class subject? I went back over what I had written. Nowhere did I say that we were redoing the class that hadn’t gone well. In fact, I mentioned that we had been paid in full. I couldn’t find anything that I said that would lead him to that
conclusion. It just drove home to me the fragility of email communication.

Some of my thoughts:

1. He read it quickly and jumped to a “false” conclusion.
2. I wrote something that to me made perfect sense, but didn’t to the reader.
3. Something like this had happened to him and he was required to do a re-teach, so he jumped to that conclusion.
4. In trying to be clear and neutral in my recitation of the facts of the past problem I wasn’t – implying something I had no intention of implying.

There are probably more “possibilities” that you can think of. To me the lesson is that email communication is wonderful, but full of potential landmines. And the more we ‘work faster’ or multi-task or whatever, the more these misunderstandings can happen. With email people cannot hear inflection in our tone of voice. They can’t see a twinkle in our eye to know that we are kidding them. If they are business contacts we may never have met in person – so we have no clue as to the other person’s personality.

How to resolve this? I don’t have a silver bullet. I suggest slowing down and rereading everything before hitting the send button. This works both ways, for the sender - is what I wrote clear? And as the responder - did I properly reply to what the sender really said and not what I think she said? I suggest watching out for comments that may be misconstrued (easier said than done often times, as in the above example). Then there are cultural and regional jokes, slang and other foibles of modern American English :-)

Email is an incredible tool and is here to stay. We have to hone our skills at using the tool, just as anyone learns the tools of their trade.

Author's Bio: 

Heidi McCarthy has been customer focused her whole life, getting a good orientation in her first job working as waitress while putting herself through college. After college she worked in the corporate arena for 8 years where she learned the ins and outs of working in a corporate culture including customer service working with and traveling to clients across North America. Next she worked with her husband in his salvage diving business where dealing with the “rich and famous” taught her much about people’s expectations. Running a consulting business she started working with Custom Training Institute. The consulting soon became a full time job, where she became the General Manager and Director of Operations. This job showed Heidi the immense need for what has become her specialty niche – customer service in the electronic universe.

Additionally, Heidi has the ability of being able to see holes in systems that on the surface look to be good and solid. And, she loves to teach – to share what she has learned .

Heidi’s passion for excellence in business caused her to found Toughest Customer, where today she helps companies grow and retain customers through improved customer service and extreme client care.