What to Do When Your Instant Message Goes Horribly Wrong

What to do when your instant message goes horribly wrong
Email was the original goddess of instant information transfers, so gloriously easy that it is little wonder it quickly became a primary communication mode between businesses and their customers.
Just as we were accepting that legal documents could be scanned in and emailed, we were getting used to still faster forms of communication like Messenger and texting.
In most businesses today, when it comes to directly communicating with clients, the formal letter, once carefully crafted and proofed, has gone the way of the dinosaur.
For the most part, this change has been wonderful.
It allows businesses to respond rapidly to customer requests. It creates a higher degree of informality and ease in client relations. It ensures that work orders are noted and responded to in seconds, not hours or even days, and that everyone who needs to be kept in the loop on something is aware of what’s going on.
Overall, it keeps the flow of essential information moving in tune with customer expectations.

It’s great until something goes horribly wrong

However, while speed and informality are cherished in most business cultures and seen as conducive to getting the job done efficiently, those two qualities can also be devious.
Speed and informality sometimes make us respond in haste and mistake a client for a friend (although in some cases that may be true.) We press “send” before we have really considered our response, and set ourselves up to create misunderstandings or even contract cancellations if we get it really wrong.
Worse still, instant communications have blurred the line between our businesses and personal life. One second we are texting a client a quick solution to an issue; the next we are telling our teen-ager that he can go to the football game with a friend but only if his homework is done first. We may be more direct with a friend or family member than we are with a client.
And then, when you put all these things together, some things can go horribly wrong.
Sometimes it is because your fingers move faster than your brain.
So you send your client a response to his request for a quote on 10 pallets of a product that says: “It’s $29.99 per 100,” when you meant to say “It’s $299.90 for 10,” you have a lot of explaining to do later.
And of course you were too rushed to read it over before hitting “send.”
Or your annoying brother-in-law John asks if he can borrow your snow blower and you email “okay, but make sure you fill up the gas-tank or this deal doesn’t happen again, you cheapskate,” and then you start to type “John” and the ever-so-helpful e-mail program finishes the name for you and you are in a hurry and don’t read it over before you hit “send.”
So your client John, whose name comes before your brother-in-law in your contact list, gets the message instead, a quick and pointed response to the message he just sent you which was “can you ship me another tractor by Wednesday?”

E-mails with strings attached

One of the worst mistakes is when you receive an email from a demanding client and you want to get a second opinion about it, so you forward it to your colleague with your instructions on top:
“Hey Wanda. Take a look at what that demanding you-know-what wants now. Is this something we want to do?”
And then Wanda replies: “Nope, who the heck does she think she is?”
And Wanda, who is also in a rush, hits “Reply to all” instead of “Reply” and guess which client gets to read that frank exchange?
The demanding client (now ex-client).

How to fix your instant messaging mistakes

To some degree or another, everyone in business has made some variation of these mistakes. We are human and we will err; it goes with our nature.
The important thing is to know how to fix a mistake before the damage becomes irreparable.
Then every business needs to put a process in place to ensure mistakes don’t happen again.
Let’s look first at how to recover when really mess up badly by sending a message to the wrong person or sending a quick response without thinking an issue through.
Shutting down your system, calling it a day and going home for a large glass of wine won’t make your messaging mistakes go away. There is no fairy godmother who goes into your system at night and resends things to the right people or softens your brusque response.
You have to do that, and the faster, the better.
You need to own what happened and use your most creative thinking to diminish the damage.

What do to when you sent something to the wrong recipient

If you realize that you made a mistake and sent a file to the wrong person, don’t resend the email with an explanation … you will just be compounding the error.
Instead, send a quick message that says: “Call me (your number). You were sent the wrong information.”
Best of all, pick up the phone fast, call the person and tell them you sent them information by mistake and ask if they will delete it. Be humble. Chances are if the person was in your contact list it is someone you know reasonably well and most people are gracious about such mistakes because they recognize they could have done the same thing.

If the client was insulted in the message they received, what then?

If the demanding client in the example mentioned above got the unpleasant references to herself between you and your colleague, you have learned a valuable lesson.
Never speak disparagingly about a client in writing anywhere on the website. That way, you will never face this problem again. Instruct your staff to adhere to the same practice. Never describe a client or a person in writing on the Internet in terms that you would not use to his or her face.
In the case that your policy was not adhered to, however, your only resolve is to humbly grovel and try to charm your way out of it. Show up with a peace offering, and make it a really special one that you think the client might enjoy. Tell the demanding client that she makes your company better because of her high standards and you are ashamed that this has happened.
I heard a story once about a client receiving an unintended message in which she was referred to as a “tough cookie.”
Mortified, the CEO spent a profound apology and an enormous cookie that said “Thank you for your sense of humor.” They saved the day.

Steps to stop future mistakes

Here at AIS Solutions we consider every mistake to be a learning opportunity to set up a process to ensure it does not happen again.
Here are four things you can implement in your business now to ensure you avoid instant messaging disasters:

  1. Don’t hit send for one minute after writing the message. Write the message, then turn and do one other thing, even if you just have a sip of water, and then read the message over, check the subject line and the address where it is being sent. Only then press send. It may not be as instant, but it will be less time-consuming in the long run, and may alleviate some potential embarrassment.
  2. Make sure your message contains sufficient information to create clarity for the recipient. Brevity may be king in the digital age, but clarity is queen, and if you want to keep your position, both of them need to be happy. Don’t write long emails, but make sure they are sufficiently detailed so the person knows what you are talking about.
  3. Check the “tone” of your writing. Are you too brusque in your efforts to be brief? Did you start with a greeting and end with one (brevity doesn’t dispense with civility). Are your words terse? Think how you would feel if you received and read the message you are about to send.
  4. Never respond to any email or message in anger. Walk away, simmer down, and respond later.

I hope those tips help. Remember, this blog is for you and we hope you will enjoy the content.
Thank you for taking the time to read it. Until next time, take good care.
This blog is for you and we hope you will enjoy the content.
Please let us know if there are any specific topics you would like us to address in the future.                     
Copyright: Elnur Amikishiyev / 123RF Stock Photo

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Steve Loates

Steve is the co-owner of AIS Solutions and Co-founder of Kninja Knetwork. In 2017, his firm was named Intuit's Global Firm of the Future, the first time the title has ever been awarded to a firm outside of the United States. He has also has been named as one of the Top 10 Influencers in the Canadian Bookkeeping Industry. He has been a small business owner for over 30 years and has helped to develop a number of businesses including bookkeeping, online training, digital marketing, website development, e-commerce and retail. Steve passion is educating and supporting small business and when he is not creating online courses he is delivering workshops and webinars across North America and the Caribbean including presentations at QB Connect, Connected, IPBC, CPA The One and Scaling New Heights.


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