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Audit Your Communications

I just got off the phone with a man who was concerned about his writing. "I have a high-level job," he explained, "and I always had someone who wrote my correspondence for me. I would explain the details and the finished product would be brought to me to sign. It worked well and I looked great.

"Now the system is changed. I'm expected to do more and write my own letters. I realize I don't know how to write and my grammar is not the best. I've been sitting on a report now for ages because I don't want my bosses to see how badly I write."

Does this sound familiar?

Nowadays we are expected to do more with less support and do it as well as-if not better than-in the past. In addition, there is an increased emphasis on customer and quality service. Yet few people really understand the concept.

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A friend of mine gave a mug bearing his company's logo to a potential client. The rep from a competing company saw the mug and immediately sent the prospect two monogrammed mugs. A third rep entered the fray and brought in a mug filled with candy. The client then phoned my friend and laughingly asked what he would do to up the ante.

One cup, two cups, or a cup full of candy. Are any of these going to make a difference to which company is chosen as vendor? Not likely. What about the product or pricing? There is not a vast difference now between quality products, and prices are usually cut close to the bone anyway. So what will make the difference? It is the relationship or rapport that is established between the two companies. In others words, how the people involved communicate with each other.

Writing

Writing is the hardest means of communication, and one that very few business people are adequately trained in. However, effective writers can go far. In the 1930's four inmates of Alcatraz prison, while working in the warden's office, wrote a powerful letter to the governor recommending their pardons. The governor was so impressed he ordered the men released. They promptly disappeared. Later the charge of forging the warden's signature was added to their records.

But often times, speaking or calling a meeting is more appropriate than writing. A prime example is the six-page memo Bill Gates wrote his staff,
a few years ago, lamenting the challenges facing them. The document was leaked to the press and Microsoft's stock on Wall Street plummeted. Gates' fortune dropped $40 million. Understanding which communication skill fits the interaction is important.

Speaking

Another important communication skill is the telephone-the front door into your organization. Does the receptionist give your company "spot" commercials or turn callers off. Or, perhaps you are using electronic messaging. How many levels of button-pushing does a caller have to go through to get his needs met? If you say four or more, you are irritating your public.

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Consider how well you and your staff handle phone calls? Several years ago I tried to renew my car insurance. I mailed my check on time but didn't receive the renewal slip.

When I finally reached the woman processing my policy, she explained-very nicely-that she was too busy to work on it that week. When asked what I should do, she seriously suggested "Perhaps you had better stop driving." Please keep in mind I have never had a speeding ticket, never made a claim and was a long-standing customer.

My call to the president quickly remedied the problem; however, the next year when I was approached by another insurance company, I switched. This is a perfect example of how customer service had not been communicated to the front line workers.

Listening

How about the listening skills of your staff? Do they know how to actively listen to clients, colleagues and managers? Or, are they rooted in their own misconceptions or beliefs? Some friends were toying with the idea of buying a house.

However, the woman was extremely busy with a business proposition at the time and wanted to leave the final decision to her husband. As she explained to the male realtor, "He has a lot more 'must haves' on his list than I do. If you can find a house that meets his needs, it will definitely meet mine." The realtor had some preconceived notions. "I only deal with women. They're the ones who decide." The woman was too busy to return his phone calls or arrange a time for viewing and, as the realtor would not work with just the husband, the realtor did not close the business.

Meetings

  • Another communications area to check is how well your staff make presentations or run meetings?

  • What sort of an image do they present when they attend a meeting?

  • Do they understand that being an attendee means more than just being a warm body?

A communications audit of your company completed by both customers and employees will reveal some interesting information to assist your future planning.

Everyone has their own panacea for building rapport with staff and customers: mission statements, teamwork, improved customer service, quality management etc. I agree they are all essential. However, at the root of all of these is giving and receiving better communications-both internally and externally.

Jane Watson



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