The Digital Dialog

Think back to a time before the Internet. (My kids always give me a puzzled look when I tell them that such a time actually existed!) Print buyers ordered printing face-to-face over a front counter or voice-to-voice over a phone. That still happens, but today’s print buyers order printing from your website, too!

It’s easy to be friendly face-to-face, but are you being friendly online? Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s why your online communication has to be clear, accurate, and friendly. Your online conversation, whether human or automated, is your digital dialog.

Here are some tips to make your digital dialog as effective as possible.

Say Goodbye to The Geek

Your digital dialog shouldn’t be too geeky. Instead, it should be friendly … just like the face-to-face conversations you had before the Internet.

Tips For Humans: Just because the conversation is happening online is enough to get some people talking geeky. Don’t. Imagine the conversation as if it was happening face-to-face, and then transfer that conversation into the digital dialog.

Tips For Computers: This is where the geek-talk can really show up. Just because the message is automated doesn’t mean it can’t be warm and friendly. Use normal talk with real words. Put in a picture of real people. Sure, an automated robot is pushing the “send” button on that email, but it doesn’t have to seem that way!

Ask for Clarifying Details

If you don’t have enough information to continue on with an order, ask for more! You can’t move forward until everyone is one the same page, so ask the questions and get the answers that will get you there with your customer.

Tips For Humans: Does your digital dialog support an easy way to ask for more information? You should be able to keep the digital dialog moving forward within the context of all the order information you’ve received to this point. Here’s an example of how printers get the clarifying details on a Websites For Printers website; we provide a Job Journal to allow printers and their customers to exchange information about the job in progress.

Sometimes it’s going to be just quicker and easier to break away from the digital dialog and pick up the phone to have the “get more information” conversation with your customer. By all means, do that! But head on back to the Job Journal (or whatever note-taking tools are available in your particular system) to record the important details of that conversation, so no one’s memory evaporates about what was discussed on the call.

Tips For Computers: Consider the perspective of the print buyer stuck on an order form. How does your website react when the customer doesn’t (or can’t!) provide enough information for you to move the job forward? On a Websites For Printers website, when there’s not enough information to determine a final price of the order, the Order Form turns to a Request an Estimate form. The print buyer then knows that clicking the button doesn’t send the work directly into production. There’s a “stop” built into the digital dialog to allow more human communication to occur, providing an opportunity to collect clarifying details.

Be Polite and Helpful

When someone places an order or requests an estimate, make sure your customer knows who is supposed to do what next. When you let them know, do it in a friendly, non-assumptive way.

Tips For Computers: If a customer requested an estimate or quote, your automated system should make it crystal-clear that the process just moved from the speed of computers to the speed of humans. Your customer needs to know that you’re going to take the time to get it right, and that as smart as all the algorithms are, computers just aren’t going to be able to figure this one out on their own. This is a great opportunity to playfully humanize your automated message:

Dear Molly Printbuyer,

I’m really sorry, but this is just more than I can handle. The computer processors around me always tell me how smart I am, but I know my limits. I want to get this right for you, and I’m smart enough to know that I’m in over my head on your request.

That’s why I’ll hand this over to my friendly human counterparts for a while so they can get the missing information. As soon as they do, I’ll be right back with you to keep things moving forward. When I’m back, I’ll be much faster than the humans again!

Tips For Humans: Your job is the other half of the computer’s story (above). Now that the computer handed off the work to you, you need to move fast. Speed is the currency of future profits! You may be working your tail off, but if your customer doesn’t know that, they’ll think you’re just wasting time. If a job is particularly complex, or if it’s just “one of those days” and you can’t get to it fast enough, don’t keep it a secret. Let your customer know!

If you were the customer requesting an estimate, and it’s been over four business hours since you’ve requested the estimate, which email would you rather receive?

Dear Anthony Printpurchaser,

Thanks for requesting an estimate from Acme Printing. I wanted to let you know that it’s taking a little more time than I had hoped to get all the pieces put together to create an accurate estimate for you. Rest assured, I’m working on your estimate and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!


(awkward silence)

Send an email to let them know you’re working on it, and that they can expect to hear back from you again. Don’t let them wonder what’s supposed to happen next. Prepare their expectations.

Predict The Future

“Is my order ready yet?” Every time your customer asks that question they’re stealing your time. You have to react to the question and respond to their request. You need to take the time to find out the status of their job, and then you need to provide them with the answer.

Tips For Humans: Wouldn’t it be better if they never had to ask the “Is my order ready yet?” question? Prepare to proactively provide them with the details of when they’ll get their order. Soon after you get the order it should be on your teams’ schedules, which means you’ll have a pretty accurate idea of when their order will be ready. As soon as you know, send your customer an email telling them when to expect their order. You may find that the little bit of time it takes to let them know when to expect their order is less than the time it takes to hunt down the answer to “When will it be ready?” over and over again!

Tips For Computers: Every time the status of a job changes, let the customer know! This tool is one of the biggest hidden gems in a Websites For Printers website. Here’s the interface that allows the printer to change the job status and send a notification to the customer:

You don’t have to issue status updates for your customers, but you should. Doing so allows your customers to build confidence in you. Your customer will get the not-so-subtle message that everything is under control and moving forward.

Confirm What Was Just Said

Think about the order confirmations you’ve received from your last handful of online purchases. Which ones stand out to you, and which ones are forgettable?

You can’t remember the forgettable ones. That’s why they’re forgettable, right? That’s exactly why you need to make sure your order confirmations are more than just a simple plain-text “Thank you for placing an order” message. Your order confirmation email isn’t the end of the story, it should bridge the gap to the production process.

Tips For Computers: Make sure your computer-generated confirmation emails walk the fine line between being “dressed to kill” and providing just the right amount of information. Too much emphasis on the visual appearance might make your email too distracting, and your customers might loose sight of the real message. However, a spartan message appearance could mean you’re missing a golden opportunity to connect with your customer in meaningful ways.

Tips For Humans: Chances are you’ve already delegated the task of order confirmation emails to your computerized counterpart, but you can easily bring a lift to someone’s day by sending them a genuine, personalized “Thanks for your order” in addition to the automatically generated confirmation email. It’s a very easy way to differentiate yourself from the crowd!

Is it realistic to send a personalized email to every single person that places an order on your website? No, probably not. But why not do for a few what you wish you could do for everyone? Randomly pick a few customer each day to receive a personalized “Thank you” email from you. They’ll notice, and who knows, it might be just the thing to lock them in as a life-long customer!

So there you have it! Take some cues from the face-to-face and voice-to-voice channels of communication and apply them to your digital dialog too!

How do you enhance your digital dialog? Tell us in the comments (this blog’s digital dialog!) below…