I’m writing this post from my beautiful villa in the Crevillente Mountains in Spain. I was awakened this morning by a digger outside my gate, creating a long trench that was going to prevent me from using my front door. I did not know why they were there, or for how long. For all I knew at that time, I could have been without water or electricity, but no one had bothered to tell me anything.
This interaction got me thinking about the importance of good communication with customers. We’ve all experienced something similar: the delivery that didn’t arrive on time when we took a day off work to receive the package; the bank that promised to return our call and didn’t bother; the company that promised to get back to you regarding a complaint but did not.
It is not only external customers who are let down by poor or nonexistent communication, but also internal customers: your staff you neglected to inform of changes to products or services or their working conditions.
Effective communication strategies have been identified as a critical success factor for businesses. Maintaining excellent communication, internally and externally, is paramount to the achievement of the organization’s goals, especially when change occurs.
Crucial communication-related questions for service leaders and stakeholders are:
- What information is required?
- When is it required?
- Who needs it?
- What is the best method to provide information?
- Who is responsible for providing it?
- What are the associated costs?
Based on the answers, a communications plan can then be developed, providing more detailed information. One should remember, however, that costs can and will escalate when communication is poor and everyone is receiving the wrong information. I recall a recent example of a bank sending out incorrect information about a change. The bank was then inundated with telephone calls that they had to deal with because they hadn’t proofread their circular properly.
Although smaller teams can get by with weekly meetings, one-to-ones, and e-mails, larger teams require the use of more formal communication methods in order to put their messages across accurately and consistently. For large organizations, in order to reach the many geographically spread stakeholders, greater use of more formal communication methods is essential.
Communication—or the lack of it—can be the root cause of an organization’s poor service performance. This includes problems with both staff and customer retention. Strong leadership and communications are inseparable. Strength in communicating is not an innate skill, but it is one that can be learned.
An effective communication strategy will normally include:
- Clear and consistent messages that win the attention of people.
- Communication using plain English that is easy to understand, with no jargon.
- Positive messages that inspire and motivate people to ensure participation.
- Sharing of knowledge, ideas, and feedback in all directions across the organization.
- The use of multiple channels to reinforce understanding.
- A no-blame culture, creating an atmosphere of trust and openness with all stakeholders.
- Realisation that listening to internal and external customers is the key to success
Despite current thinking around communication strategies, including the use of various media and technology, many leaders do not fully appreciate the highly strategic role that communication plays. Consequently, they may not spend enough time thinking through what customers need to know, including the best ways to impart this knowledge.
An organization's method of communicating speaks volumes about how much it trusts its people and cares about their feelings. Our communication strategies create the environment that we are expecting our people to work in, and if it is positive, our customers will benefit from it, too.
Bill Gates was right in saying, “Like a human being, a company has to have an internal communication mechanism, a ‘nervous system,’ to coordinate its actions.”