Most businesses have to communicate with customers in at least two critical moments. First, they have to make the sale. And second, they have to deal with any issues their customers have afterward.
In the first case, communication must be very thorough. You want to address any and all concerns the customer might have to make them comfortable enough to complete the purchase. Conversely, when there is a problem, too much information is considered noise. Be sure you are only discussing information that is relevant to the customer or risk making them even more unhappy.
Recently, we had a problem with an appliance that often struggled to start. We scheduled an appointment with a maintenance person to come to our home at 2 p.m. At 2:30, the technician still had not arrived, so I called the business to find out what was happening.
The woman answering the phone launched into a lengthy diatribe and went into so many details that my “phone eyes” started to roll.
Provide the right amount of information when communicating with customers. Stick to the root of the problem and tell the customer what they need to know without going into a myriad of details.
Finally, after “checking further,” she found that my repair order had accidentally been filed under the next day’s jobs. In all, it took about 15 minutes for her to share details she thought I needed to know.
I realize it was important for the woman on the phone to find the cause of the problem, but I didn’t care about all that – I just wanted to know when my appliance would be fixed.
This is not to say you don’t need to communicate the cause of an issue, but you do need to limit your explanation to only those details the customer must have to better understand what happened and how you are going to fix it.
For example, if you can’t provide information the customer has requested because your network is down, do not go into a lengthy explanation as to why it failed (e.g., server malfunction). Rather, simply apologize that the network is down and tell them when you expect to be able to get them the information they need.
Limit your explanation to only those details the customer must have to better understand what happened and how you are going to fix it.
Just like in my case, all the customer wants is for the problem to be fixed. They don’t want to know about the issues you’re experiencing or what you have to do to fix it.
As another example, I had a mechanical/computer problem with my car that I needed fixed before going out of town. I made an appointment with the dealership, but when I arrived, they told me the mechanic who could fix the problem was out with a medical issue and gave me details about how his family was doing.
At that moment, all I wanted to know was when I would be able to get my car fixed. What the dealership should have done: Apologize for the issue and give me alternatives for getting the repairs I needed.
Now go out and make sure you are providing the right amount of information when communicating with customers. Stick to the root of the problem and tell the customer what they need to know without going into a myriad of details.
Jerry Osteryoung, a business consultant and Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.