The fundamentals of any business enterprise are primarily concerned with building relationships which are founded upon an etiquette, involving courtesy and politeness, between a business and its customers, staff and suppliers.
The first contact you have with a customer or supplier might be by way of written communication, be it email, social media platforms or a formal letter. That being the case, it needs to set a positive tone for future business relationships. Failure to observe correct communication etiquette can result in an inappropriate tone being used, which can cause offense or misunderstandings.
A lack of clarity or purpose can also cause issues in establishing a good relationship. A well written letter is becoming harder and harder to find; slang, computer email-lingo and bad grammar have made their way into our everyday language and become second nature in our way of writing. Always keep in mind however that words cannot be taken back once a letter has been sent so any correspondence leaving an organisation must be professional, accurate and to the point.
Using the right tools and technology for the right job
During the course of a working day you may be required to produce reports, memos and emails and you will need to use a range of tools and technology to do so.
Choosing the right resource for the right job is a matter of determining what needs to be done and deciding how best to accomplish that task with the resources at your disposal. Tools you can use in business communication may include;
Email services such as Outlook, iCloud, Gmail or organisation specific ones.
Forums such as LinkedIn and Flying Solo, where you can join conversations on a range of business related topics.
Presentation tools such as Microsoft’s PowerPoint
Virtual meeting technology such as Zoom and Skype, that allow you to hold video meetings with colleagues, suppliers or customers no matter where they are located.
Computer based software such as word processors or spreadsheets.
You will also need to use a range of technology which will allow you to edit and format your documents as well as check your grammar and spelling. Or, you might be required to send out meeting invitations, participate on online forums and file and store information… and so on.
We will look at tools and editing technology in more detail as we move through the unit.
Planning simple documents
Communication experts tell us that it takes a mere three seconds for you to make a first impression on someone. So the first contact that you have with a customer, or supplier, is extremely important.
When communicating face to face this first impression is easier to control as you can actual see and talk to the other person. However, the first contact may be in writing so any document you send out must make that good first impression for you. Planning is therefore a very important step in establishing a good relationship with your customers.
Determining audience, purpose and requirements for documents
A crucial factor in planning the type and style of document you need to create will, to a large extent, be determined by who the document is aimed at and its intended purpose.
Who is the document aimed at?
It is important to establish the audience for the correspondence as it sets the tone of the message. You may be communicating with people both internally (within your organisation) or external; with customers, suppliers or people making general enquiries. Writing to a new contact requires more formality, making sure no industry jargon is used, the use of a person’s title and keeping entirely to the point of the letter. When writing to a long-time, valued customer or a trusted supplier or employee the tone of the letter can be somewhat friendlier with a more personalised content (if applicable).
What is the purpose of the document?
This also has an impact on how formal or informal the message should be. A letter of congratulations, for example, will have a completely different tone to a letter in response to a complaint. The purpose of a written communication may be to:
clarify issues. This might mean preparing a written list of questions, or response to requests from clients. For example, when a business proposal has been sent out to a client, they may have a range of questions about the proposal or; companies who have been asked to quote on a product or service may also ask for certain issues to be clarified by the client so that they can give an accurate quote. Requesting clarification in writing provides a written record of exactly what was (and what wasn’t) agreed to.
communicate about meetings or events. A written memo, email or formal invitation to a meeting or other event is an excellent way of not only keeping a record of invitees but also providing details of the event.
distribute the minutes or outcomes of meetings. This is a record of what was discussed during a meeting. It is important to distribute the minutes or action items to the people who have attended a meeting as soon as possible after the event. Tasks may have been assigned during the meeting and the minutes or action lists are a written record of who has been allocated a task and a timeframe in which it is to be completed. These minutes are then used at subsequent meetings to review task progress.
Report on staff or operational activities such as product inventory, sales revenue earned over a given time frame, marketing activities and financial information – just to name a few.
request information, advice or assistance. Information, advice or requests for assistance can come from customers and from colleagues. Providing this information or advice in written format can be provided for immediate use, and then kept on file for any future needs.
keep historic records – for example keeping track of information about a customer, supplier or product range can, over time, show trends about purchasing habits, enquiry sources and many other things.
proof of communication in legal issues.There are situations in every business where a written record of a transaction or conversation may be needed to provide evidence of what was agreed to – and what was not. For example there may be a dispute between the organisation and a customer about a product or service – written information is useful in clarifying exactly what the purchase entailed.
What are the key points you need to get across?
The purpose of a document will mean outlining key points of information. It is important to keep these clear and concise and to put them into a logical, easy to follow order. If there are several point to be made, write them down on a sheet of paper and number each one in order of either importance or sequence in which they apply. For example, when giving instructions on how to apply a product or service, list these instructions in the order in which they need to be completed.
You will also need to consider which method of communication is best suited to the audience and purpose;
Is the matter urgent? In which case an email might be the best option.
How formal is the communication? Does it involve a contract or an agreement that must be signed? In which case a formal letter will be needed to accompany those documents.
How widely spread should the message be? If the communication needs to reach a large number of people you might consider email or, in the case of any promotional activity, an online forum or social media platform.
In addition to the issues outlined above, consideration also needs to be given to organisational requirements in their communication methods and styles. These might include (but are not limited to):
Identifying the relevant personal and correct authorities for signing
Requirements for non-discriminatory language
Adherence to copyright legislation
Use of templates and forms
File usage and storage
Legal and organisational policies
Workplace health and safety
Identifying the correct authorities for signing
Letters should be signed personally; it looks unprofessional if they are left unsigned. It is, therefore, important to know who has the authority to sign the correspondence.
Relevant signatories might include;
supervisors or managers; who may have requested the documents to be prepared, or who will need to sign the completed documents.
other staff members in the office may need to contribute to the documents, for example; when producing a company report you may need to have access to sales statistics, income figures, product inventories, customer feedback reports and so on. You may need to liaise with all team members from these departments to get the required information, and get them to sign off on their particular sections of the document.
department heads or team leaders who need to authorize and/or countersign forms filled out by staff or customers (for example leave forms, or customer refund requests and so on)
Requirements for non-discriminatory language and copyright legislation.
It is against the law, in Australia, to discriminate against any person because of their race, religion, gender, age or physical ability. In line with legislation that governs anti-discrimination, this means that you need to be careful in wording the letter, so that it in no way discriminates against any one. It is correct, today, for example, to use gender neutral terms such as salesperson instead of saleman, or manager instead of manageress.
You may also need to consider issues relating to copyright, such as who will own the rights to the material you produce, and ensuring that the rights of other contributors are respected and acknowledged. This can, generally, be achieved by acknowledging source information, providing citations and gaining permission to use external materials.
Material may not be legally copied without the permission of the copyright holder or under the provisions of the Copyright Act.As with all rules however, there are exceptions: short quotations may be included in documents you produce, with the appropriate source reference.
There are several accepted ways of providing references: the main thing is to be consistent. One of the most commonly used methods is Harvard style, which follows the format: Author’s surname, Initial(s) Year of publication, Title of book, Publisher, Place of publication. This would look like:
Perlitz, L. 2015, Professional Business Skills, McGraw Hill, Sydney.
A source simply states where information comes from, and it may be authoritative or not. A diagram copied from a website in a resource may have the web address as the source. However, there is no claim that the source itself has been checked as accurate. One common example of a source that is currently used but is not counted as authoritative is Wikipedia.
A permission shows that the copyright owner has agreed to (that is, given permission for) material, written or illustrative, to be reproduced in your work.
An acknowledgment is, generally, the wording used in your work stating that reproduction is with permission of the copyright owner. Often the copyright owner will provide the wording that they would like used.
Note that simply using a citation or listing a source does not give the right to significantly copy from someone else’s work. Sources and citations merely refer to the originator of an idea that may be included in a different context in the developer’s work. Only the use of a permission shows that there has been agreement between the developer and the original creator or their agent. Apart from legal rights surrounding the copying of other people’s material, it is simply unethical to copy material and represent it as your own.
Copyright infringement and/or politically incorrect or discriminatory wording can lead to legal action being taken against not only the organisation but also the person who wrote the message.
Use of templates and forms.
Many organisations have templates or forms that must be used for specific purposes. These could include using ‘standard’ letters such as standard replies to job application letters or product enquiries. The use of these forms and templates ensure that information is gathered and stored in a consistent manner and allows for statistical data to be easily recorded from them