In trying to compete with the internet, we’re competing with convenience.

Most consumers, myself included, have become used to being able to order something at any time of day and receive it tomorrow. Additionally, we can place an order online with a big-box store, drive up to the curb and have our groceries loaded into the car.

I believe the future of retail lies in ease of use. That’s why our company is focused on making the customer experience with us as easy as it is in other industries. In that vein, we have begun offering more options for customers to communicate with us.

After a couple years of consideration, we have invested in a significant customer interaction management platform called Podium. It’s becoming fairly well-known in the pool and spa industry because it features so many capabilities, such as live chatting and text messaging without using employees’ personal cell phones.

The platform also makes it as easy as possible to generate those all-important online reviews: You send a text to request a review; the text links to the review through the social media platforms they use most often. It takes seconds, with no sign-in required, since their phone likely is already logged in to their social media.

We like to enable customers to communicate however they prefer, so we’ve always wanted the ability to text. Sometimes it’s the easiest way for them to explain a problem to us. If I’m having a hard time visualizing an issue, less tech-savvy clients might have a hard time figuring out how to attach photos from their smart phone to an email, but they know how to click and send it in a text. Even our younger-generation summer staffers prefer to communicate that way.

While customer interaction management applications make it possible for your company to communicate in new ways, there are things to keep in mind. In working with these systems, we’ve learned a few lessons:

1. Ease into it.

We didn’t sign up for Podium right away, because it includes so much. Instead, we first tried our hand in a couple functionalities through simpler and less-expensive means.

First, I launched a Facebook ad campaign through messenger ads. This allowed consumers to ask questions and request prices, and I could send them pictures. It was almost like a text message conversation. I didn’t realize how successful it would be — we sold our entire inventory in a week. It really made me realize the demand for this kind of instant communication.

Then we signed up for an application called Skipio, which is purely a texting service. Once we mastered that, we thought we could use texting and live chat in other avenues of our business — plus we wanted to simplify reviews — so we decided to sign up with Podium.

2. Manage your tone.

From our experience with email, we all know that we need to be careful with tone, since you’ve lost inflection and other audible cues that let people know your intent. With text messaging, this is an even bigger concern, since you need to say more with even fewer characters.

Emails usually begin with a salutation — “Dear Customer,” or “Hello, Jim.” In texts, you need to get right to the point. You may try to say everything in one quick sentence, but it may come off differently than you meant.

To keep this from happening, our staffers all help each other. I might ask an associate, “How would this be perceived?”

And, yes, feel free to use smile-face emojis to soften the tone.

3. Draw boundaries and manage expectations from the beginning.

Texting can make it difficult to maintain work-life balance, especially for service technicians: If the customer believes they have the tech’s number, then some will text about all issues at any time of day. This also can cause logistical problems, because some of those issues really need to go through our service office, so they can be coordinated and scheduled appropriately. Or we might need time to get the right information from the right person.

It can be easy to set the wrong expectations. When you first adopt a texting application, you’ll enjoy the instant gratification as much as your customer will. And if the texts are related to a sale, there can be greater motivation to answer later at night. When we did our first promotion involving texts, I would answer at virtually all hours. It was fun!

But now I am very mindful to show the same responsiveness during the sale as I will after the purchase. You don’t want customers to think that you are only responsive when there’s a potential sale.

I think you need to have a mindset of knowing your boundaries. Most people seem to understand work-life balance, but I have had customers Facebook message my personal account if we didn’t immediately respond from our DesRochers Backyard Pools page. So I learned a big lesson: You just have to draw a line sometimes.

I still struggle with it, because I feel such a commitment to the people who shop with us. If they message my personal page, I might reply, “Hi. I’ll get right with you when I’m back in the store. Here’s what you can do right now.” And I’ll let them know we do have a DesRochers Facebook page that is being manned by more people to answer questions.

To help us keep a healthy work-life balance, we also set up Podium with “office hours,” so that, after a certain time, the customer will receive a message saying that we are not available, but that we’ll get back to them as soon as possible. Our Facebook page is also set up to do this.

Then, our goal is to reply within 12 to 24 hours, even when we’re closed.

But people who recently made a big-ticket purchase generally want an immediate response while they’re getting used to their new spa or pool.

4. Know when to switch modes of communication.

Some customers may want to have lengthy conversations via text, but you may need to actually speak with them to get all the information and make sure they understand.

When our service manager senses a longer conversation might be needed, she might text something like, “Here’s the quick information you asked for. If you have more questions, reach out to us by phone. I am available.” Other times, especially with complicated problems, we’ll call and say, “I’m really sorry. There’s just too much information to put in one text.”

We also are careful about using text messaging for sales. Many people do not like to be sold this way. For an upcoming early-buy sale, we only plan to text those customers who we know well and who prefer texts. I still find value in direct customer interaction, so I don’t want to completely lose that, especially with clients who we’re still getting to know.