In my last blog, I noted the importance of effective communication between customer and service provider. Our research shows that improved communication improves most other measures of the customer experience. But what exactly does “effective communication” mean?
Remember that I am focusing on communication from the viewpoint of the business-to-business environment. The relationships tend to be longer and more complex than in the business-to-consumer environment. The value placed on effective communication is even greater. Let me share a framework for what I think makes for effective communication.
- Effective communication is first and foremost about establishing and re-establishing expectations. These expectations are about defining and understanding needs, the cost of service or product, and time of service completion or product delivery. What happens too often is people may do an effective job at the beginning of the service delivery process of establishing expectations. Communication effectiveness typically goes down as the service delivery process goes on. For example, the date for completion of the service slips or some additional repair work is done without the customer’s approval and what happens is a surprise for the customer. The real purpose of effective communication is to avoid surprises. With each subsequent round of communications with the customer, new expectations are set.
- The method of communication is becoming more important than in the past because there are so many more options. It is important to know what method the customer wishes to receive communication. Is it phone, mail, email, text, or in-person? The method varies too by the nature of the expectations to be set. For example, if the repair bill is going to be much higher than originally thought, that might be best done in a more personal way so that the reasons can be clearly explained to the customer.
- Follow-up is critical. We all have many things that we do always remember. If you have a phone conversation with a customer, follow it up with a written note or email. This is not CYA but rather to ensure both you and the customer remember what was said and agreed to. A follow-up also allows you to make certain you heard the customer correctly in the first place.
This is my definition of an effective communication approach. What is yours? Let me know.