A New Humanity: Digital Body Language & Why It's Important

A weird phrase to take in, right? ‘Digital body language’ - it sounds like the catchphrase of a San Fran tech guru meant to bamboozle you into thinking their ideas are more impressive than they first might appear.

But wait! Don’t close this tab just yet; due to circumstances outside of our control, we live online now (I’m not going to mention the P word, I refuse). That means that your bedside manner is now virtual, something I’m sure you’ve realised already. The right attitude towards how you portray yourself over social media, apps and messaging could mean the difference between a success and a failure.

So it bears asking: what are the direct implications of this new-age way of communicating, and how can we make up for the loss in warmth, tone and understanding we get from face-to-face communication?

You may laugh, but I want to think about emojis for a second. Once the preserve of Facebook and Whatsapp, they are now a regular feature of business to consumer marketing. Not to sound like a luddite, but everybody’s doing it now - Deliveroo, Uber, Monzo, Sainsbury’s… they are all connecting with consumers using the way we all communicate with each other on a personal level. Emojis offer a shorthand of getting to the point, to set the tone of a message. Powerful for an icon, right?

Look at this, for example:


With negligible effort, you’ve created a more open and warm welcoming message. This pet owner is going to be excited to talk to you over text chat, aren’t they? After all, you work hard to present a welcoming environment in-clinic - why not try to replicate that over your clinic’s messaging service?

This also brings up a really interesting point on reacting flexibly, too. Mirroring the customer’s language shows empathy, much like open body language can in person. Pay attention to the cues - do they seem wary, or unresponsive? Then we move to formal language, and concise messaging of the next steps. Are they typing with a jovial tone - perhaps ‘!’, or 👍? They are likely the type of pet owner who looks to build personable relationships, so offer them a light-hearted interaction.

Think about how we can use digital body language to set the tone of an upcoming post-op check-in, or lab update, via tools like PetsApp. Nerves can be a little frayed right now, so using messages prior to your in-person engagement can contextualise upcoming interactions. Consider giving pet owners a brief idea of what will be discussed, so they are primed for what you’re about to say - and alleviate distressing conversations. To take this tone demonstrates the empathy that this profession is known for. It shows that your messages are sent by a human, and that your customers are being listened to.

This human element is so important - after all, machines cannot replace engagement with a living, breathing veterinarian (one with a significant educational background, too). As much as we can tune digital tools to mimic human body language, there can be a disconnect. When we Google our symptoms and check them past AI programs, we still go to the doctor or pharmacist for advice.

It’s why we connect our text chat with video chat, to bridge everything together. One strengthens the other, and vice versa - it reminds people we’re there, we’re listening, and we’re ready to help. It lends us that connection that AI can’t provide - the human one.

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