04/21/2016 03:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Social Media and Email: The Lost Art of Communication and Conversation


I'll be the first one to say how much our lives have flourished with digital technology and social media: People have been able to connect with loved ones and old friends. Businesses are marketed in ways they never could have been before. Email alone has had an incredible impact on the way we communicate.

However, what happens when the message gets lost in the electronic communication and people don't want to connect the old-fashion way?

I'm sure many of us, including myself, have been caught in texting wars -- or even an email mess, where things are taken out of context or misinterpreted.

Some have lost friends -- and possibly business -- over an email or text gone wrong.

When this happens, you have to take a step back and realize your keyboard just broke down a relationship that took you years to develop. Yes, in only a few clicks combined with the send button, your client or friendship could be terminated.

Let me explain.

It's tax season and most accountants are very busy, especially when you are closing in on April 15th. However, when you have been with a firm for over a decade, you would hope you had built some type of a relationship with them.

This was the first year my son has truly been on his own after he made a big cross-country move to California for a new job, and he needed an accountant to help him prepare his taxes.

I figured recommending the same CPA I have used for fifteen years would be logical. Although they're located in Florida, they assured me (via email) they could accommodate California tax preparation too.

What I wasn't prepared for was that they no longer want to talk to people. (At least, not without an additional fee, which we were not aware of.)

I asked the CPA (via email) to please call my son and explain his tax return to him; he didn't understand it and he had some questions.

It all sounded great until the CPA (who is very nice by the way) called my son and literally told him he couldn't answer any of his questions!

When my son texted me this, I was not happy. This led to an email war with the CPA after I attempted to call and discovered they don't take calls anymore, unless you're willing to pay $125.00 for the privilege. It's all about emails now.

I mentioned in an email that my son was a paying client and deserved to speak with someone. One of the CPA's associates emailed my son an explanation that she thought would answer his questions. It was in accountant lingo, which of course he didn't understand.

Here is my son's response:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Apr 15, 2016 10:39 AM
Subject: Re: 2015 returns

Hi xxx,

Yesterday, with our phone call, I was expecting you to walk me through my taxes to explain what I paid, what I am getting back, and why. I am not saying I should be getting a bigger refund but I want to understand why I am not. I was not expecting to have to speak with multiple people in order to have my questions answered.

My forte is medicine, not finances. Reading through financial jargon is confusing to me as I imagine reading through medical jargon would be for you. I still don't quite understand all the explanations given in the email correspondences. I was expecting more from you in the way of customer service and client education being that I am young, obviously inexperienced in understanding taxes, and potentially a repeat client.

I would appreciate a call (but not if there is a fee involved) to help me understand my taxes.

Thank you for your time,

How did this end?

The CPA welcomed me to fire him. Isn't that professional? Stating it was obvious I have an issue with his fee structure (full disclosure, he did charge my son the going rate for preparing his taxes).Yes, I agreed -- we have come to a roadblock. I couldn't believe the treatment we received after I have been a loyal client for so many years.

My son finally spoke with someone days later (no fee, since that was not mentioned to us prior this issue). It only took about 5-7 minutes to have his questions answered. It's a shame that this whole incident happened over a digital dialogue whose message got lost in translation. And what are the chances that this CPA retains us as future clients?

The fact is, if you want to rely on your keyboard and the click of your mouse to relay all your messages -- you could be at risk of losing not only longtime valuable clients but also good friends.

Maybe youth are thinking ahead.

Recently I was approached by an eighth-grade student who was writing an essay on how technology is negatively affecting youth's brains. She asked:

So I'm on the side that believes the increased use of technology and social media is negatively affecting the brains of people. One reason is that they start to lack "performance" skills in class. Many researchers have also found that because students don't use correct grammar and punctuation online, they don't use it when writing papers. What is your opinion on this matter?

As I shared with this student, the Internet doesn't replace etiquette.

Oddly, one thing my son noted was the lack of social etiquette the CPA firm used in their emails. He found it very unprofessional. Sure, there's a time and place to use Internet slang and forego grammar and punctuation, but not in professional correspondence.

If you're not going to talk to us, at least send us professional emails.

Takeaway tips:

• Digital communication can be misunderstood. Talking still has value.
• Email can't replace real conversation.
• When sending a sensitive email, wait twenty-four hours.