Like most other middle aged people, I do not find text messaging on my cell phone to be a particularly easy way to communicate. I'd much rather just call the person in question, or use e-mail. I learned to type on a keyboard early in life, and it is taking me less time to type this first paragraph than it would to “thumb” some less detailed shorthand like, “IMHO TXT IS WTG!
(For those of you in my camp, that translates as “In my humble opinion, text is the way to go!”)
That said, I use cell phone texting more often than you'd guess, mainly with individuals for whom it is a preferred means of communication. One of my daughters falls into this category, as does an editorial colleague. Both are “Millennial” types who mostly keep their cell phones on voice mail rollover and tend to respond more quickly (and reliably) when I send inquiries using their preferred means of messaging.
There's nothing new about that. As Marshall McLuhan so famously said, “The Medium is the Message.” The most effective way to get a message across is to use the language and medium with which the recipient is most comfortable.
I found myself thinking about this a few weeks ago in the course of a conversation with Ted Mayer, the executive director of Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS).
Like the dining programs at all colleges, HUDS periodically is criticized by the student body and newspaper for various perceived shortfalls. In this case, we had come across an editorial along these lines in the Harvard Crimson and I had called Ted to congratulate him on his newfound media attention.
What caught my ear was a remark he made about what the department found as it “dug in” to the source of the complaints.
“While we've always encouraged feedback from students, we discovered there was a significant amount of conversation going on in a medium we weren't paying any attention to,” he said.
“Our undergraduate houses maintain ‘discussion lists’ that residents subscribe to. They operate like local chat rooms, often when the students are up late studying, and it turned out our dining program had become a topic of conversation.”
Among other efforts to respond, Ted mentioned that the department had started a blog and he referred me to Crista Martin, HUDS' director of marketing and communications, for more detail on it.
“It's true. Ted does have a blog,” she said, “although several of us in the department contribute to it.
“We have many ways of collecting feedback — everything from comment cards and emails from our home page to annual surveys and a student advisory council. But none of them had brought to light some ongoing dissatisfaction that was bubbling up in the house list conversation threads.”
Some of the specifics?
“Mostly they related to menu changes that weren't received well. Some had to do with our seasonal menu switchover, others had to do with changes we made to address rising food costs.
“In the big picture, none of these were major issues, but together the comments ‘turned viral’ and started to feed on themselves. Those having the conversations had the sense that some favorite things had been taken away and that ‘something was going on.’”
Once HUDS identified the specifics, “we brought most of those items back — they were minor issues in most cases,” says Martin.
“But we felt it wasn't enough just to do that — we wanted to to open up a regular conversation with those who do most of their communicating via electronic media.”
The blog was started as a “higher level of communication” from the dining department to these customers, she says. It focuses on addressing questions “we know are out there” and on providing information students may not have gotten another way, like the impact rising food costs are having on the department or the results of student surveys.
The take-away? Electronic communications do not replace traditional media, but are adjunct to them. Everyone with customers needs to communicate with them in ways that are culture-specific.
@TEOTD, IMHO, HUDS HTNOTH. (Translated: At the end of the day, in my humble opinion, HUDS hit the nail on the head.)