Sometimes You Just Have to Pick Up the Phone and Call a Client

Dec 10th 2014

Recently, while speaking at a conference, I picked up a spectacular example of just how important voice tone and inflections are in communication.

I’m sure you’ve seen the little eco-friendly card in a hotel room, the one that says: “If you hang up your towel that means you want to re-use it.” The one that every single hotel I’ve ever stayed at categorically ignores. Well, I like to be friendly to the environment, and I have a habit of hanging up my towel (thanks, mom). I always hope the housekeeper might actually see this as an undeniable signal of my desire to save the planet, one hotel towel at a time. But they never seem to.

This (fancy, gated) hotel I was staying at, however, was different. To my surprise and delight, I came back to my room after the first full day of the conference, and my towel was still on the hook! This same hotel also has a texting system, and I had received an invitation to use texting as a way of communicating with them. I decided this would be my opportunity to try it out. I mean, who doesn’t like to receive a little positive feedback in a stream of faceless complaints?

And so I sent via text message: “Thank you for being the first hotel ever to actually leave my towel on the rack to reuse instead of replacing it!”

Do you know what they replied with?

“Ms. Rampe—I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience I will have some towels delivered to your room right away. – Natasha”

Total fail. Was it my fault? Their fault? Society’s fault for being so sarcastic in general that this was taken the wrong way? I’ll let you take your own position on that.

The lesson is this: Next time you think about whether to send someone a message, or give them a call (or talk in person), don’t forget the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your message is conveyed with facial expression, tone of voice, gestures, etc. Take that away and you’re left with words that are increasingly easy to misinterpret.

My consequence for delivering ineffective feedback? By the time I got back from dinner, I had four extra towels in my room (in addition to the existing four). Lesson learned: I should have picked up the phone.

About the author:

Kristen Rampe is a CPA who loves helping other CPAs develop great teams and great customers. She provides consulting and customized, in-house CPE to professional service firms in the areas of client service, communication and team building. Check out her blog for great ideas on how to improve your practice!


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