Communication has come a long way in just the last five years, and it continues to evolve as technology and social media evolve. For the modern businessperson, the sheer availability of mediums is staggering, but thrilling. For every instance of necessary communication, be it internal, external, important or fleeting, there's an appropriate form of messaging. However, it's all too easy to get lost in our own preferences, and forget how much impact our choice of medium can have on the interpretation of our messages.
Convenience Doesn't Always Mean Efficiency
Technologies tend to evolve in favor of convenience. Making a phone call from a dedicated landline was once the most convenient means of communication available--you could connect across the country in an instant! Today, you can send text messages, initiate calls, or even transmit video messages all on a single, mobile, handheld device. Each of us has personal preferences for communication based on what we feel is easiest--for example, some people have an easier time writing than speaking, and some people prefer meeting in person rather than the impersonality of text. But it's important to see beyond the limits of our own convenience.
The selection of a medium can have a drastic impact on both the efficiency of your communication and the interpretation of your message. In this article, we'll explore different communication mediums and assess their pros and cons.
Text-based communication is one of the most popular categories used. Emails, SMS text messages, social media interaction, and instant messaging programs are all widely used by companies to accelerate communication between parties. However, there are some limitations to text-based communication, so it's not always the most appropriate.
- It forces us to be concise. In texts and emails, there's no room for small talk or pleasantries, so your message gets right to the point.
- Your message is on the record. There's room for misinterpretation, but the original message can't be questioned--it's searchable, and available for reference by all parties involved.
- You can be precise. Writing things down forces us to think carefully about what it is we want to say. In many cases, that makes us more likely to be specific and write in detail.
- You can be organized. Text messages are somewhat more limiting, but in emails, it's easy to organize your message in a way that visually makes sense.
- Text carries no tone. Aside from emoticons, which are usually seen as unprofessional, there's no way to infuse subtext into your message. Any tone of voice or body language is instantly lost.
- Text can be misinterpreted. While it's also possible for vocal interaction to be misheard or misinterpreted, text is not a foolproof means of communication. One spelling error or one skip-over could ruin the effect your message is intended to have.
- It's impersonal. Some messages require compassion and sympathy in their delivery, and text simply doesn't have the same effect as a face-to-face meeting.
- There's no back-and-forth. In some cases this can be advantageous, but with text, there's no opportunity to open a group discussion. There is only a punctuated series of one-to-one responses.
Text is fast and precise, and it holds people accountable to their messages, but it's also impersonal and subject to interpretation. It's an excellent choice of medium, but only when your message is better served by being on the record than it is by being conveyed with emotion.
Voice calls are starting to become obsolete. Text messages are more concise, and video calls are more personal. Still, vocal interaction has a place for many people.
- It doesn't require much attention. Unlike text messages, which require a manual user input, or in-person meetings, which require full focus, phone calls give you more freedom. If you have a hands-free set, you can call while driving, saving time. If you're on a conference call, you can probably get away with multi-tasking.
- You can express inflection without worrying about body language. Voice carries tone much better than text messages, allowing you to inject humor or sympathy into your words without having to pay attention to your body language.
- Several people can connect simultaneously and remotely. Using conference calls, several people from all around the world can speak together at once.
- People speak over each other. With speech delays and few body cues, it's easy for people to clamor over each other, especially while on a conference line.
- There's no record. You can record phone calls, but it's much more difficult to find necessary information in a sound recording than searchable text.
- People aren't always easy to hear. Heavy accents, bad connections, and naturally low voices can all make phone communication more difficult.
Overall, phone calls are great for connecting several remote people at once, but the inefficiency of communication often makes in-person meetings or text messages better options.
Video calls are a significant alternative to in-person meetings, for when people want the experience of a face-to-face meeting, but can't geographically connect. Skype and FaceTime are two of the most popular video chat applications, but there are many options available.
- You can express body language without being in-person. Body language is important, especially when you're trying to build a relationship with another person, but sometimes, in-person meetings just aren't possible. Video calls are perfect for this.
- Video calls sometimes offer other options. For example, the Skype app allows you to simultaneously send files and communicate with text, so you can keep record of the conversation.
- Video calls use a lot of bandwidth. Depending on your network, it may have an impact on those around you.
- Bad connections can ruin everything. Again, this depends on your network, but it is a real risk to the medium. You don't want your client meeting to be cut short without warning.
- There's a threshold for effectiveness. Two people video chatting is more effective than twenty people trying it. Google Hangouts is trying to find a solution for this problem, but for now, the fewer the people involved, the better.
Video calls are a great substitute for an in-person meeting, but only if it's impossible to meet in person, you have a great connection, and there are only a handful of participants. Otherwise, you might end up frustrating more people than you end up informing.
In-person meetings have been the go-to for decades, and they're still highly effective--provided you have the ability to meet.
- Full body language and expression. This is as personal as you can get. Everybody has their tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, and personal charisma to work with during the conversation, helping everyone better understand each person's perspective.
- No interruptions. You never have to worry about bad connections or dropped calls.
- Fluid conversations. Unlike phone calls, where people tend to interrupt one another, physical meetings usually allow for a very smooth, interactive dialogue between many participants.
- People are everywhere. It's 2015, and people work together all around the world. It's hard--if not impossible--to get everyone you need gathered in one location at the same time.
- Record keeping is subjective. The only way to keep a record of the meeting is to write out notes--and that leaves room for personal interpretation.
- Timing is difficult. In-person meetings usually require every participant to block off a certain amount of time (say, an hour) for a meeting, even if some of those participants are only relevant for a portion of the conversation.
In-person meetings are still preferential if you're trying to build or maintain a relationship, but otherwise, they can be inefficient and inconvenient.
Making the Right Choice
Every situation is unique. It's almost impossible to select one communication medium that can support all your business needs. The most successful businesspeople of 2015 are going to be the ones who learn to master effective communication--not necessarily by improving their messages, but rather by improving the delivery of their messages. Use each medium to its greatest advantage, and you'll be able to get the most out of every conversation you have.
What are your communication options when you need to engage mobile prospects and customers? Given that a good old fashioned phone call doesn't even crack the top five most used apps on a smartphone, it's a safe bet to consider that your best engagement options are going to involve tapping instead of talking.
In this blog post we compare three options: Texting (SMS), Mobile Messaging and Online Chat. While these terms often get used interchangeably, they are in fact three very different options, each with their own characteristics to consider.
We leave out voice calls because they've fallen down the pecking order of preferred smartphone apps. We're also leaving out app notfications and email because neither are effective at supporting full conversations on mobile devices.
“Online chat may refer to any kind of communication over the Internet that offers a real-time transmission of text messages from sender to receiver. The first dedicated online chat service that was widely available to the public was the CompuServe CB Simulator in 1980.” (Wikipedia).
Chat is also a verb that can be applied to any texting activity but here we are talking about a solution category.
Online or web chat is very different from Texting and Messaging. Chat is used frequently used by customer service when a customer is online and needs help. It has been designed to solve problems in the online environment and falls short when moved to a mobile environment. Chat is also not used for building and maintaining engagement through an extended conversation.
Example chat vendors are listed in this Mobile Engagement Vendor Landscape blog post.
Short Message Service (SMS) is also called text messaging or texting. It was invented 30 years ago as a way to send text-based messages through the cellular network.
SMS comes preinstalled on your mobile phone. I mostly use the Samsung SMS app to communicate with my friends and with businesses (old school).
Texting is very popular and widely used globally. SMS supports 160 characters of data before it wraps to a new text message. Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) is an extension of SMS and supports pictures, audio, and video.
SMS sends messaging over the wireless network's control channel, which is a separate data-only channel used to control the "bearer" channels that carry voice conversations or cellular data. This means you need to have wireless network coverage for SMS to work.
Modern messaging applications first started to appear in 2005 in the form of apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and similar services. Messaging is immensely popular, with the combined user base of the top four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Line) being larger than the combined user base of the top four social networks (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Linkedin). Additionally, more messages run through messaging apps than over SMS.
Messaging is how people communicate and has become the fabric of daily life. And as such, needs to be understood by the enterprise when determining how they will communicate and have a conversation with the digital consumer.
“Asynchronous messages, conversations, and the conversation list form the basis of mobile messaging. It is the combination of all of these behaviors and expectations in messaging that make it such a dominant part of people’s digital lives. It is what makes messaging the most comfortable communication medium ever invented…. The comfort of messaging has had real consequences in making it the most engaging and popular activity on our most personal devices.” (Ben Eidelson)
Messaging was once a simple service for exchanging messages, pictures, videos, and GIFs but is has evolved into ecosystems with their own developers, apps, and APIs. Now messaging apps can be built into a mobile solution to become part of the in-app (or mobile web or other UI) experience.
There are two important categories of Messaging apps: consumer personal use and enterprise use. Personal use apps are the ones here like Facebook Messenger. Enterprise-grade messaging apps like our My:Time messaging solution follow the same communication framework but provide robust and scalable features needed to run a large scale business.
My:Time™ also packages this framework to be an end-to-end messaging solution for the enterprise with all the components and services needed to support next generation customer service strategies.
Comparison: Texting vs Messaging vs Chat
The table below provides additional comparison of the three communication options. Messaging is a very compelling option that needs to be considered for all engagement strategies, including those where you would typically deploy online chat. In some niches, Texting (SMS) works really well (see use cases below) and might be a better option.
|Texting (SMS)||Messagings Apps||Online Chat|
|Enterprise use examples||Critical information requiring the user action such as notifications, alerts, authentication, etc. Marketing messages.||All mobile engagement and conversations. Used especially where best user experience is required.||Website customer service|
|Is it a mobile app?||Yes||Yes. It also works on mobile web without app download.||No|
|Download Barrier? (Does it get installed on a smartphone?)||No. It comes preinstalled on your phone (no download needed).||No- when deployed on web or mobile web pages. Yes-- when integrated to native mobile apps that must be downloaded.||No downloads; web-technology|
|Engagement rate (open and read)||Highest||High||NA (chat not used to send messages)|
|Popularity for person-to-person (P2P) communication (personal use)||Very high||Highest number of consumers use it; especially younger demographics||Not used for P2P|
|Popularity for App-to-person (A2P) communication (enterprise use)||Higher use than messaging apps across verticals depending is use case. Top use case is password confirmation.||Strong but behind SMS right now||Not used for general A2P. Only used for customer service.|
|Support level of bi-directional conversation||Low. Mostly notification or request-response commands.||High. Can use to carry on a conversation.||High. Used to carry on a conversation as long as the session doesn't time out.|
|Texting (SMS)||Messagings Apps||Online Chat|
|Supports asynchronous messaging (Can start, stop then restart a conversation)||No||Yes||No|
|Ability to go across devices||No||Yes||No (mostly)|
|Message size limitations||160 characters||None||None|
|Integrated into the app for in-app experience||No||Yes||No|
Queue support; Conversation flow mgt; pick up from where you left off, across devices.
Our comparison shows major differences between texting, messaging and chat. Each option has enterprise use case where it best fits. If you need more help sorting out the options, shoot us an email or give us a call.