10 Etiquette Tips for Business Text Messages

Texting customers, colleagues, clients, and others is mainstream business behavior. But with regular use, there can be abuse. Don’t text just because you can. Text because people want or need to hear from you, and make the messages convenient for them—not just for yourself.

Review the 10 tips below, and then please add your suggestions for sending polite, professional texts.

1. Get permission before you start texting people. Just as you would ask someone which phone number to use and whether you can call them at home, ask whether it’s okay to text. Not everyone wants you to have ready access to their attention day and night.

2. Text during normal business hours. Don’t ping your colleagues on Saturday or your customers when they are sleeping. Make communicating convenient for them—not just for yourself. People I know avoid texting their minister on Monday because it’s his day off. Although sending a text on Monday might be convenient for them (perhaps because the Sunday service inspired or irritated them), they know that receiving it that day would not be convenient for him.

3. Don’t communicate the same message by text, email, and phone. One “touch” is sufficient unless the message is urgent. Choose the best medium for the message and stick with it.

Nordstrom text
Bad examples:

When my new glasses were ready, I received a clever text that they were available for pickup. (“Ready. Set. Get. . . .”) Two minutes later I got a phone call with the same information. Why make me reach for my phone twice?

My dentist sent me an email with the subject “Please Confirm Your Upcoming Dental Appointment”; I clicked the link to confirm. I got a phone call reminder the day before (from a live person) and a text the day of the appointment. For the dentist, sending the email and text may be automated, but my reading of them isn’t. I need to deal with each one. By the way, I have never missed a dental appointment, so this process isn’t about me.

4. Include your name at the beginning or end of your text unless your identity is obvious. Remember that unless customers and clients have added you to their contact list, they will see only your phone number, not your name—unless you include it. Don’t make them guess who is texting them.

Good examples:

Hi Lynn. I’m Jim ____ from Chuck Olson Kia confirming your appointment tomorrow.

Hello Jeffrey. It’s Sue from XYZ. We have postponed tomorrow morning’s meeting because of the bad weather. Jim will contact you to reschedule. Stay safe!

5. Be courteous. Being courteous means using a greeting and a positive tone and—depending on the message—please and thank you. You can easily identify the more courteous text in each of the pairs below.

A. I’m waiting for you in the lobby.
B. Hi Kiersten. I’m in the lobby when you are ready. Marco

A. Hi Dave. Please approve this photo for the cover. Thanks! Lizzy
B. This cover photo needs your approval.

Expedia text
6. Ask yourself whether you need to text or communicate at all. Don’t use the technology just because you can.

Bad examples:

I recently made a dinner reservation by calling a restaurant. One short hour later the restaurant texted me on the same phone to confirm the reservation. Why interrupt the customer with a text?

Peter, who has arrived at the café, texts Melissa to let her know he is there. Meanwhile, Melissa is driving there and needs to pull over to safely read an unnecessary message.

7. Think twice before sending a group text. It may be easy for you, but it can drive recipients crazy. As with email, replies to all will have cell phones vibrating and pinging with one-word texts like “Okay!” and “Thanks!” These replies can frustrate recipients, especially when they don’t know one another and don’t have a good idea who is saying what.

Facebook, Twitter, and email may work better for communicating to groups of students, members, or project participants. In email, include people’s addresses as Bccs if they don’t need to communicate with one another.

8. Proofread before clicking SEND. Texts are a written medium, so make it easy for your associates to read them. If you blame autocorrect or the speech-to-text feature for silly errors, you don’t come across in your best light. Slow down and “approve” the words on the screen before you send them.

9. Be professional. Yes, emojis and XO are perfect for some communications to friends and relatives. But when you text at work, your text messages are professional communications. Would you insert a yellow smiley face or a beating red heart on your resume? When your relationship with a customer or client becomes very friendly, an emoji may be perfect in your text. But choose it intentionally; don’t use it as a constant feature.

10. Let the communication end. Don’t feel you have to have the last word or emoji. Below is the end of a text exchange in which two people set up a lunch meeting for tomorrow. When is the communication really over?

Person A: See you tomorrow!
Person B: Yes, I’m looking forward to it.
Person A: Me too.
Person B: See you then!
Person A: See ya! (: )
Person B: Okay!

The message should probably end with “Yes, I’m looking forward to it,” allowing both writers to get on with other tasks.

Although texts often get instant attention, applying the tips above can help you make sure yours get positive attention, not groans of irritation.

Please share your tips for efficient, courteous texting. 

Would you like to improve your business writing skills? Check out our online classes. 

Lynn
Syntax Training 

16 COMMENTS

  1. Helpful hints! I would add to #8 (proofreading before hitting send)—read the text message out loud. I often catch mistakes like duplicate words when I do so, especially if the words are on separate lines.

  2. I wish AT&T would read this, Lynn. I am not one who likes receiving text for business or personal accounts. Every month AT&T sends a text saying my auto-payment has been made. Then I receive an email with the same message. I’ll take the email. Trash the text.

    When I researched how to opt-out of the texts, I discovered there is no opt-out. Doesn’t matter if you want them or not. You get them.

    They think it’s okay because no fee applies to the text. Who cares if it drives your customer crazy? ☺

    Can you tell you hit a nerve, Lynn. ☺

  3. Adam W. sent this good suggestion to me through LinkedIn:

    “I find it helpful to have the device read the text (or email) back to me. I do this both on the phone, and on the computer.

    “It’s like a secretary reading back a letter. Computer voices are getting better all the time, and you can often select an accent that you like.

    “This practice helps immensely, as I catch countless errors by ear that I missed by eye. It also helps with composition, word choice, rhythm, etc.”

  4. Excellent tips! My Dentist is a serial abuser of tech based communication. I get a text day prior, email 2 hours after the text and a phone call end of day, whether or not I have confirmed the appointment. So annoying, but he’s a great Dentist.

    I have asked him to limit communications, but he said he cant because others are not so responsive as I am. Gee thanks… I get the prize for being dedicated patient.

  5. Superb post, Lynn.

    Gaining permission – from a client or colleague – to enter the text realm is pivotal to setting the stage for effective business messaging.

    I also try to mirror the patterns of my texting partner as the dialog moves forward. If they are terse, I’ll be terse. If they like more detailed messages, I’ll match their sentence length. (However, if they text with typos, I won’t follow suit.)

    Another device that has become convention is the “thumbs up” icon, which functions as both a “Roger that” and a natural, comfortable finish to a text thread.

  6. Great Tips! One that drives me crazy is “reply all”! Sometimes a group text will go out congratulating a coworker or whatever the case may be, and a few people will respond with “reply all” oh this drives me crazy…

  7. Lynn,

    As usual, you provide great information. I agree with you, texting to confirm an appointment, then calling is not necessary. My dentist asks which method we prefer and they only use that message for contacting you. I prefer text, so that is all I get as a reminder.

    Lisa

  8. Thank you for commenting, Shya, Miri, JD, Brenda, and Lisa. I love your input!

    Miri, your dentist is like mine. Maybe the office could put a note in your chart saying “Do not call”?

    JD, I just noticed the thumbs up icon in texts I received in the past few weeks. It IS helpful. Also, I like your idea of mirroring the style of others. I try to be courteous, though, even when others are abrupt.

    Brenda, a group text for congratulations sets everybody up for replying to all. That behavior would drive me crazy too.

    Lisa, we want your dentist!

    Lynn

  9. Helpful tips! Thanks Lynn.
    I’m not a native English speaker, it really bother me how to end the text every time. According to your tips, now I know it.

    Thanks again!
    Wan Ping

  10. Great article. I’ve noticed that “You’re welcome” has gone out of style and I wish it hadn’t. It’s the correct way to respond to “Thank you” without prompting the long tail of back-and-forthing that you describe. To me, it also feels like a subtle attempt at one-upmanship!
    Roger Schulman, TheWriterCoach.com

  11. Hello, I like to definitively conclude a text back and forth with a “goodbye” type phrase.

    A. OK, the meeting is set for 10:45, I will bring the projector, and you bring the coffee?

    B. That sounds good, will bring the coffee.

    A. Perfect! Signing off now, I’ll see you tomorrow at 10:45. Good night!

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