By Dan Marinucci
AKRON (Jan. 14, 2000) — Do you pride yourself on you and your staff being professional? If so, start communicating like professionals with a working knowledge of the English language.
Specifically, stop treating e-mail messages like some specially exempt, "dumbed-down" lingo all its own. When you drive a car, you follow prescribed rules of the road. Ignore those rules, and you look like a careless, untrustworthy idiot.
Likewise, effective, persuasive communicators follow linguistic rules of the road. Ignoring language´s rules make you sound like an unschooled and untrained bumpkin.
The real question is: How does sounding amateurish and ignorant enhance your personal reputation? How does it enhance the overall image of your business with any of your customers or suppliers? Wake up, folks—it doesn´t!
The last time I checked, no one had suspended the linguistic rules of the road just because someone´s communicating by wire instead of paper.
What´s more, the fact that so many business people are graphically demonstrating their ignorance on the Internet doesn´t justify that ignorance—nor does it justify lowering standards. There´s no substitute for, and never will be an alternative to, polite, precise and proper messages that follow grammatical rules.
To me, trying to read a semi-coherent e-mail message is as much fun as driving a backfiring car with a botched tune-up. Figuring out where the writer´s sentences actually begin and end is as pleasant as listening to a loud brake squeal.
I don´t foresee e-mail message clarity and readability improving soon for the simple reason that it´s easier for most users to dumb-down than it is to attempt complete sentences with periods!
When red-blooded Americans see that most e-mails resemble their own fractured prose—suggesting that English really is a second language for them—they seem to accept these linguistic free-for-alls as normal.
Let´s get back to the tire dealership or service shop. Those e-mails you sent your health benefits provider and vital parts supplier looked as though preschoolers had written them. You´re trying to resolve a claim or settle a warranty dispute. Suppose it were a matter of these companies giving your dealership the benefit of a doubt in each matter.
How much respect, admiration and, possibly, sympathy do you think that sloppy, careless e-mails will generate for you and your dealership? If you were the decision-maker receiving such messages, how seriously would you take the person who sent them? How much of a break would you be inclined to offer that person?
When I look at some of these grammar-free messages, my instinctive reaction is: "If this fellow is that careless about his writing, just what kind of ship is he running there?" The doubts take hold: Does this sloppy note reflect his approach to all procedures? If so, how believable is this claim or warranty request?
Suppose you´re e-mailing a rather pricey estimate to an already-skeptical owner of a $45,000 car. You want his business because he impresses you as the kind of guy who´ll spend good money with the right service facility.
Unfortunately for you, one of the reasons this man can afford this car is his command of the language—not to mention that he´s a stickler for details.
You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and your garbled, grammar-free missive to this prospective customer is not boosting your credibility. This prospect looks at your message in bewilderment.
Some of the most successful service shop operators I know won´t tolerate technicians who can´t spell "electrical" correctly on a work order.
These owners urge workers to keep pocket dictionaries handy. What´s more, they prod their office staff to religiously use the computer´s spell-checking and grammar-checking functions on everything they do. These functions aren´t perfect, but they´re a far cry from guesswork.
As I have said in many previous columns, image-building amounts to adding as many small pluses as possible to your store´s overall image. Simply put, if you´re not adding, you´re subtracting from that image.