"Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble. "
-- Yehuda Berg
I was sitting in pre-op in a hospital waiting for my very special friend, Ellie, to be called for her knee replacement surgery. We were told to be there at 8:30 a.m. At 8:45, we were taken to the pre-op room where we were to wait for her to be taken into surgery. She did not get wheeled into surgery until 1 p.m.
As it turned out, her surgeon had been delayed by a problem in an earlier surgery. This is understandable, but no one ever came to tell us about the delays. In fact, when I went out to talk to the staff at the nursing station and asked when she would be called, they acted as though I was being unreasonable even asking. Every time, their response was that they would let us know when it got close, but they never did. We did not see them until they came to take her to surgery.
The nursing staff was very capable, medically speaking, but clearly they had not been trained in customer service -- or patient service. Had they had this training, they would have known that you always give the customer the best information you have at the time and then keep them updated. The nursing staff could have said that they would monitor the situation and give us updates every 30 minutes to an hour. That would have given us a much better sense of security that someone was keeping tabs on us.
This particular case is from the medical field, but examples of similar communication failures are just as pervasive in business.
One firm had a book of business so large that they were running about a month behind in deliveries. Unfortunately, they never let their customers know about these delays, so many of them just shifted suppliers. In the end, this situation cost the company almost 20 percent in sales the next year.
They could have avoided losing that business simply by informing their customers about the delay and offering them the option to replace their order with alternative products in inventory.
Communications are important to every business. Most issues with communications are easy to fix, but you first need to be aware of the problem. Then you need to act on it.
One way to identify potential problems is to map out each instance when your business communicates with your customers. For every one, figure out what can go wrong with communications or customer service and the steps you can take to fix these issues. This exercise can show you where your company is vulnerable.
A survey of your customers is another way to gauge the effectiveness of your communications. Simply ask them to tell you how well they feel you communicate with them. A survey focusing exclusively on communications is important, but many firms do not do them.
Jerry Osteryoung, a business consultant, is a Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. Reach him at email@example.com.