by Andy Breen / Senior Vice President, Digital
Ask me the status of my professional relationships and I’d have to say, “It’s complicated.” The bigger a company gets, the more challenging it is to communicate with customers, intermediaries and employees. It’s a complex network of parties with widely differing needs, roles, interests and expectations.
How we communicate is a make-or-break component of our success. When we get it right, wins come quickly in the form of revenue increases, workplace happiness and business expansion. Communicate incorrectly, and the negative impact could be devastating. Communication is everything. One thing we value internally is transparency. Work in progress is circulated amongst our small work teams. If there is a miscommunication, a colleague will spot it early on and get everyone back on the same page. We’re human and fallible. We accommodate that reality in our process.
Like most businesses, my company communicates more these days through digital means than through traditional channels such as face-to-face meetings and telephone calls. And yet, access to more communications channels – like Slack and Yammer – can frustrate and even alienate the very people we’re trying to serve.
So, as you think about how you want to communicate with clients and colleagues, keep these rules of thumb in mind.
1. Communicate their way, not yours.
One of the biggest improvements we made to our communications with top customers and employees came simply from asking them how they wished to be contacted. So simple. Given that they are bombarded from every angle, knowing which channel they prefer gives us a real advantage. One thing I’ve learned is that people turn to different channels for different things. So while email may be fine for most occasions, a phone call or even a text is better when, in their opinion, issues are pressing. Learn what those issues are for each of your top customers and employee segments.
2. Make it easier for them, not cheaper for you.
In growing companies like mine, it becomes obvious early on that one-on-one communication has a considerable cost. It’s tempting to look at cutting those costs through one-to-many channels such as bulk emails and blog posts and with automated systems such as interactive telephone voice response and online chat bots. Yet none of these methods will make your customers feel individually served in every case, so be careful when and how you choose to apply them.
Relationships are expensive, but they’re worth the investment. Relationships are built over time on trust, which comes from feeling both served and respected. Sometimes you can do both with automated systems, but it’s wise to identify the situations in which you can’t and prepare for them. In the age of digital communication, you can systematize the everyday exchanges, but only if you’re willing to personalize the extraordinary ones.