For farriers, poor communication ranks up there as a work place hazard that can do significant damage to a practice. Although there isn’t the physical injury that comes from other dangers, like being kicked by a spooked horse, poor communication can lead to loss of business that's severe enough to cripple one’s business.
Poor communication in footcare can occur in countless ways. The owner who tells the farrier what the vet said, which is not even close to what the vet had said; the farrier who doesn’t call back an owner; the vet who doesn’t call the farrier to discuss an issue, but tells the owner what’s wrong about the horse’s feet; and on and on.
Communication has become more problematic these days because of the ease of getting in touch. With text messaging, emails and Facebook private messages, farriers are more easily reachable than ever before. Of course, this has advantages, such as alerting a client that you are running behind schedule. Or you can return all of your client calls using voice protocol when driving home, saving that valuable time to spend with your family.
There are the disadvantages. In many instances, easily sent communication can establish unfair expectations by the owner. One Colorado horseshoer lamented to me that the current state of communication has allowed some of clients to become demanding for service. When he only had a landline and answering machine, clients would call and leave messages about scheduling. At the end of his day, he would return those calls and make appointments. Oftentimes today, a client might drive by a barn he is working at and send a text stating that since “you are in the area, you can just come by and do my horse.”
With the majority of communication moving to screens, there has emerged another landmine. This is the metamessage, the context that the recipient interprets from your messaging. Deborah Tannen, a professor in linguistics at Georgetown University, wrote about this recently in The Atlantic magazine. A common metamessage is how someone could read a tone, such as sarcasm or anger, from a text when no sense of those were intended.
The expectation of a swift reply is another metamessage. You may be working under a different client’s horse, but there could be an impatient owner unrealistically awaiting a response to a message they sent. That message is of high importance to them. They take silence as intentional instead of realizing there are greater priorities than reading their message. I doubt there is much one can do other than autoreplies to manage a fragile ego.
So what can you do to manage this? Tannen points out that the perception of hidden messages within our communication is nothing new. She suggests the best thing to do is the same as before mobile devices. Be open, honest and straightforward. Make sure your clients know the person you display is the person who you are. Leave as little to interpretation as possible.
If you have been a farrier before cell phones and smart phones became commonplace, have you found the technological advances more convenient or more bothersome in the running of your practice? Share your thoughts in the comments below.