How To Avoid Communication Problems
Effective communication with customers is one of the many areas that often go overlooked when developing a customer service plan. While virtually everyone will agree that it is important to communicate with customers, and do so effectively, few actually develop a communications plan. Without a plan for communicating with our customers, we can not manage the process of communicating with them and can not be confident the right message will be sent at the right time.
Imagine the average teenage checkout clerk at the grocery store. You are in line buying your groceries. She (or he) is likely ignoring you and if there is any conversation outside of the basics required to complete the transaction, it is likely with another associate. What does that say about your customer service experience? With a communications plan around the process of moving customers through the register we can manage that interaction and ensure the customer experience is a positive one. It may seem extreme to develop a plan around what the cashier should say to the customer, but without one, we have no control over what is or is not said. Do we want the cashier talking to customers about their love life or their frustration with having to work or do we want them talking about the benefits of doing business with us and ensuring that their experience was a positive one?
When developing a communication plan, one must consider timing. When do we communicate? Only when there is a problem? Only when there will be an event that we believe customers will be interested in? Examine your local Sunday paper for store flyers. Do this over the course of several weeks. You will find that they same stores have a flyer every week. Sometimes, there is very little difference week to week in what a store is advertising in the flyer. This is a form of communication with the store's customers and potential customers. Communicating on a weekly basis in this instance, even if it is just to say 'hello, we are still here' keeps the store in front of the customer. If they were only to send out flyers, say, the week of Thanksgiving for "Black Friday" customers would potentially only think of the store once per year.
When communicating a special event, plan to communicate with enough time for the customer to react to the communication. When communicating an emergency event, plan to communicate as soon as pertinent information is available, and plan to follow up with additional information as soon as it becomes available. Note that I stated 'pertinent' information instead of 'enough' information. Pertinent means important, relevant; enough means adequate or sufficient. Pertinent is exact, enough is nebulous. If your business is closed for an emergency, the pertinent information is:
"Our business is closed for an emergency. More information will be released when it becomes available."
In an emergency you can not wait until there is "enough" information, but you do want to make sure that you only communicate known facts and do not leave yourself open to speculation. you must also communicate often to keep the line open between you and the customer.
A Basic Plan
A basic communications plan outlines the who, what, where, when and how of communication. You decide who is responsible for communicating. At a high level, you can assign a contact person responsible for delivering the message. On a broad spectrum, you can define what the front line personnel are responsible for communicating.
The "what" is the message to be delivered. What do you want the checkout clerk to say? What do you want that conversation to sound like? Developing a script for routine customer interactions is a good way to ensure the proper message is being delivered. The "where" defines the physical point where communication takes place. Is it at the point of sale? Pre-sale? In the customers home? In your business? The "when" defines the timing around communication. Do you want the checkout clerk to greet the customer as soon as they approach the line? Do you want to notify customers of a special event weeks in advance or days? Defining the "when" also establishes a pattern that customers will become accustomed to and expect to occur.
The "how" simply defines the method that will be used to communicate. Store flyers, press releases, face to face interactions, use of the internet and social media are all methods of communication. Defining the how and establishing a pattern will have customers expecting information to be provided to them a certain way, at a certain time.
Does your business have a communications plan?
A Litte Is Enough
Even the most basic communications plan will go a long way to enhance the customer service experience and ensure that you are delivering outstanding customer service. Effective implementation, follow-up and review of the plan will ensure that it is properly executed. Define roles and responsibilities and determine what should and should not be communicated. An effective communications plan gives you and your associates a powerful tool in their customer service tool box and helps your customers understand what to expect and when to expect it, leading to a positive customer service experience.