We start with a story…

There was a young man driving his car home on the expressway one evening, when he heard a loud bang and felt his left rear tire blow out. He pulled the car over on the shoulder of the expressway, got out, and saw that he had a flat tire. Even worse, he had forgotten his cell phone at home and now had no way to contact a towing company.

Frustrated, he went into the trunk of his vehicle and pulled out the spare tire and a jack. It was getting close to evening and the sun was setting. He noticed cars were whizzing by just a few feet away from the tire he was about to change and so he decided to put on his headlights to make his vehicle as visible as possible.

As luck would have it, the tire that he was attempting to change had not been rotated for at least a couple of years. The lug nuts were rusted onto the wheel bolts and it took a lot of muscle and time to finally get that tire changed. Ready to get back onto the road, he jumped into the drivers’ seat, turned the key in the ignition, and – you guessed it – he had a dead battery.

Now frustrated AND discouraged, our driver got out of the car and started waving a white flag: he knew he needed help to resolve this. Before he knew it, a little old lady pulled up behind his car. Relief! He went over to share about his situation, finishing with a request: “Do you have a pair of jumper cables?” No. She didn’t. And it was then that the young man thought of an idea…

Since he had a manual transmission, he knew that if he could get his car up to 25 miles per hour he could pop the clutch and start the car manually. All he needed to do was to convince the woman to give him a push with her car.

He explained that since the back bumper of his car was about the same height as the old woman’s front bumper, all she had to do was push his car with hers to “get him up to 25 miles per hour” and he could start his car. She looked a little confused, so he explained it to her again. Finally she seemed to understand, and with that the young man got back into his car, put it into neutral and waited for the old woman to give him “a push.”

He waited and he waited and he waited until finally he looked in his rear view mirror and, to his surprise, the old woman was coming right at him, at “25 miles per hour!” Ouch!

This story is a good illustration of what can happen when we don’t take the time to clearly communicate our ideas to other people.

The issue of communication

According to Chip Wilson, CEO of 360 Solutions, recent surveys reveal that communication is still an unresolved issue for many companies:

“SIS International Research discovered that 70% of small to mid-size businesses claim that ineffective communication is their primary problem. Communication issues are not just annoying; they are also costly. It is not possible to underestimate the importance of effective communication skills, especially at the managerial level.”

One way to understand how miscommunication is costing your company is to identify the last miscommunication that took place between an employee and a customer. Ask yourself:

  1. How much did it cost to rectify the problem with the customer?
  2. How much did it cost you in parts, re-work, employees’ wages and benefits to fix the issue?
  3. What could have been avoided through clear communication?

Remember, costs don’t only involve money – they involve other resources like time and energy too – but for simplicity’s sake and easy measurability, we’ll start with bottom-line numbers.

Now that you’ve got a number in mind, multiply that figure by the number of customer miscommunications you have over a twelve month period of time. My guess is that you will be shocked at how much money you are flushing down the toilet through poor communication.

Start off on the right foot

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It is like riding a bicycle or typing. If you are willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every aspect of your life.”

Brian Tracey

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When someone tells me they don’t have time to make sure they are communicating clearly to all of their customers and employees, I tell them they don’t have enough time NOT to take the time to properly communicate with them.

An easy way to start developing your communication strategy is by answering three simple questions:

  1. Where do you and your employees communicate to your customers?
  2. How do you communicate to them?
  3. How well do you communicate?

Here is a chart that details some of the ways my clients tell me they communicate with their customers:

In writing
Over the telephone
In person
Phone calls
Company newsletters
One-on-one meetings
Voice mail messages
Company events
Company voicemail greeting
Sales presentations
Signage on service vehicles
Company’s hold message
Social Media
Trade shows

How about some of the ways you communicate with your employees?

In writing
Over the telephone
In person
Policies and procedure manuals
Phone calls
In-house company newsletters
Periodic company meetings
Pay stubs
Voice mail messages
Company parties
Performance appraisals
Company voicemail greeting
*Company retreats and strategic planning sessions
Posters and bulletin boards
Company’s hold message
Social Media
Lunchroom conversations

*Do you even have these very important meetings?

Measuring for adjustments

On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, go back and grade yourself and your employees in each category on the level of communication you have with your customers and each other.

If you are not happy with what you find, rest assured that this problem will not go away by itself.

One way to prevent problems in communication is to simply ask the other person to repeat back what you have spoken. This lets you assess whether what you said was heard in the way you intended. If we can do this on a regular basis, we will avoid the surprises that can come with miscommunication.

Other ways are to solicit feedback from your customers and your employees on a regular basis. Accessing the suggestions from the people who understand your organization is perhaps THE MOST VALUABLE type of feedback that can be received. There are a number of ways I help my clients do this and I invite you to contact me for some ideas on how I can help your small business do a better job with internal and external communications.

If you want to make your company more profitable and successful, work on your communication processes, get strategic about them, and design an accountability structure that will support the strides you are making. You will find results for yourself, your employees, and your customers.

Know already that working toward better communication is part of your growth plan? Got 15 minutes on the bus or during lunch? Check out our online training Quickstudy Manager Builder – Start by watching the video below:

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is getting out; communication is getting through”

Sydney J. Harris

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