‘Am I making myself clear?’

by Katie May, editor, Communication Briefings

It’s the question every business professional should be asking each day: “Am I making myself clear?” If your employees, customers, bosses and colleagues do not fully understand your meaning, you will not work at peak effectiveness and deliver the results others expect of you.

When we asked subscribers to tell us how effectively their staffs communicate, a surprisingly high percentage said they are satisfied with what they see. (See the poll question and complete results below.) About 37% said that communication “Rarely” or “Never” breaks down. That high percentage reflects well on the poll’s participants. Obviously, you give communication the attention it deserves and invest the time needed to ensure that you deliver messages appropriately and that others understand them.

However, a majority of respondents, 63%, said that they notice communication problems in their teams “Sometimes” or “Often.” Respondents in that group deserve a pat on the back too. Recognizing a communication problem is the first step toward fixing it.

A while back, a subscriber sent me the following letter because he recognized a problem with it. (I have changed details to protect the person’s privacy.) The memo was designed to introduce a new policy: The company was beginning to charge a delivery fee for “rush” orders, after years of providing rush delivery as a free benefit. Nervous about introducing the policy—and the new fees—my contact drafted the following letter.

Dear Customer:

We would like to thank you for your business and for placing your trust in ABC Company. We strive to provide the very best products and services available in the industry. And, while we feel good about the support we provide your firm, we are not complacent in our desire to improve.

With the ever-increasing delivery demands we have incurred over the past several months, we find it necessary to implement the following service standards to ensure every order is delivered in a timely manner. Listed below are the details regarding your level of service.

Once-a-Day service standards:

Orders placed by 5:00 am will be delivered by 6:00 pm

We appreciate and thank you for your business as we continually strive to improve our service to you. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at 800-XXX-XXXX

Sincerely,

John Doe
District Manager

Right away, I noticed some areas for concern. Because my contact anticipated a negative reaction from customers, he couched the news about the added fees in a lot of jargon. The problem was, his message was lost in the jargon, and customers would not understand.

I pointed out the following phrases and identified them as clarity killers:

  • We strive to provide the very best products and services available in the industry.
  • While we feel good about the support we provide your firm, we are not complacent in our desire to improve.
  • With the ever-increasing delivery demands we have incurred over the past several months, we find it necessary to implement the following service standards to ensure every order is delivered in a timely manner.

Rewriting those phrases to improve their clarity and sharpen their focus would improve the letter. Here is how we rewrote it:

Dear Business Partner:

Thank you for your business and for placing your trust in ABC Company. Our goal is always to provide you with the quality products and fast, reliable delivery you and your customers depend on.

We are committed to processing and delivering your order quickly and accurately. Here is our guarantee: When you place your order by 5 a.m., we will deliver it by 6 p.m. the same day.

Because we understand that your customers’ needs are unpredictable, we are pleased to offer expedited service when required. ABC Company will expedite delivery at your request. Please note that extra service charges will apply for rush orders.

We at ABC appreciate your business. Please contact me at 800-XXX-XXXX to let me know how I can improve the level of service that ABC Company provides you.

Sincerely,

John Doe
District Manager

The difference in the rewrite: a new focus on customer service and a turn away from meaningless filler phrases that muddy the message. Adding a clearly defined guarantee of service—and spelling out the addition of fees for expedited service—leaves customers in no doubt about the new policy and its effects on their delivery needs and budget.

Muddy messages are a pet peeve of mine. As a professional communicator, I am sometimes accused of nitpicking. However, I think nitpicking serves a useful purpose—most of the time—when you look for ways to add clarity to written language.

Tell me your opinion of nitpicking—and share your own experiences—when you check out my blog at nitpickersnook.com. Be sure to vote in the poll question at the bottom of this E-Letter, too. I look forward to hearing from you!

Last month’s question

Clear communication is the “grease” that keeps the wheels of team progress moving. Is clarity the norm in your team or department? That’s what we wanted to find out last month when we asked this question: How would you complete this sentence: “I feel that communication completely breaks down within my department _____.”

  • 28% said “Often.”
  • 35% said “Sometimes.”
  • 35% said “Rarely.”
  • 2% said “Never.”

If your response falls into the “Never” category, you are a very fortunate leader indeed. The other 98% of readers know that they can do better—at least some of the time. If you are ready to be serious about improving communication in your workplace, order this brand-new multimedia product: Am I Making Myself Clear? Get Your Point Across Whenever You Communicate.

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Sign up for the free Communication Briefings e-Letter! Each monthly e-letter will offer timely tips and commentary on communicating more effectively in the workplace. This valuable resource will give you access to tips for speaking and writing effectively, motivating employees, managing your time, and much more!!

 

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