Communication Is Essential To Providing Great Service

By Katie May, editor, Communication Briefings

My friend Alice is a frequent business traveler. She also is the mother of pre-teen triplets, and so it’s safe to say that while she may long for a perfect world with no complications or unexpected crises, she has realistic expectations. On a recent trip into a small-town airport, her low-key expectations were dashed.

Waiting in line to check in for her flight, Alice became only mildly annoyed when the airline agent walked away from the desk. But that annoyance had plenty of time to build. When a different employee returned—25 minutes later—Alice was angry.

As it turned out, the agent had disappeared for a reason: She had been boarding the very plane that Alice was waiting to board—and then she had helped to send that plane on its way. “She never said a word,” Alice says. “Amazing! She left four people stranded with no other flights until the next morning.”

Alice wasn’t willing to stick around for another flight. Rather than find a hotel and wait to see what kind of customer service horrors she’d encounter the next day, she rented a car and drove the 250 miles home that night.

Such poor customer service ought to be worth at least an apology, right? The airline doesn’t think so. Alice and her fellow would-be flyers were told only that it must have been their fault. At that point, they decided not to argue, and they headed for the exit.

Don’t make the same mistakes

Reliable communication is the key to customer service and professional success. A reasonable customer, like Alice, can handle being told “The plane has to leave now, and you are not going to be on it because …” That kind of statement may make a customer angry, but not as angry as she is going to be after 25 minutes of futile waiting.

Telling customers the truth—even when they don’t want to hear it—is the most important job you have to do at work. That applies to everyone in the business world, whether you serve customers in a typical buy-and-sell relationship or your customers are internal ones who work in a department that your team supports.

If you cannot comply with customers’ wishes, don’t hem and haw. Tell the truth, and then offer reasonable options that will satisfy them. And acknowledge them promptly to answer questions or concerns—especially when you have bad news to share.

Remember: Customers left in the lurch by poor communication habits may turn out to be avid communicators. Like my friend Alice, they may take their stories public, sharing their disappointment with family, friends—and complete strangers—on social networking sites, blogs and consumer review sites. That’s publicity your organization doesn’t need or want.

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