Dear Customer: You’re Wrong, We’re Right

Time for companies to get right on customer-retention communication training

Have you complained to a product or service provider lately only to receive a lecture rather than an apology?

Seems there’s an unfortunate trend where more companies are lecturing customers as to why we’re being unreasonable in expecting basic service standards – rather than apologizing for not meeting them. Here are a couple of examples.

After researching carpet cleaners online, I hired a company called (ironically) Reliable, which had great reviews. Unfortunately, after the carpets dried there were brown water stains on the carpeted stairs. I called the company and was told the technicians would return the following week to fix the problem. When they didn’t return, I left a low rating for the company on the online review site. The owner subsequently called but rather than asking how he could resolve the issue to my satisfaction, instead lectured me as to how a low rating negatively impacts his business. Obviously I won’t hire the company again, nor recommend it to anyone – a lost customer development opportunity.

Not long after, I was returning home from Cancun on a WestJet flight. Turbulence started soon after takeoff. The seatbelt signs came on and there was an announcement to “refrain from using the washrooms.” The turbulence continued for the next 2 1/2 hours while seniors clutched seatbacks enroute to desperately needed washroom visits and wide-eyed parents rushed little ones down the aisle.

I stopped one of the flight attendants and asked her why the flight crew couldn’t make an announcement informing us how long the turbulence might last and how passengers could safely make their way to the washrooms.  While I expected a “good idea!” in response, instead I received an irate lecture on how there was “NO WAY the flight crew can know how long turbulence might last” and “we’ve already told passengers to refrain from using the washrooms.” She walked away, irritated that I would be so demanding.

Way to keep passengers informed and safe! The turbulence, and the seatbelt signs, continued for another hour. As we landed, an attendant made an announcement thanking us for choosing WestJet.

Since we’ve since relayed this story to numerous people and next time will fly with another airline, WestJet not only lost customers but also numerous recommendation and referral opportunities.

And it’s not just me. In 2015, PR Week reported that in a survey of UK consumers carried out by call answering service alldayPA, 76% of respondents who had complained to a business did not receive an apology. In fact, close to half of them (47%) were personally blamed for their complaints.

At the same time, most survey respondents (68%) also said that impolite or unhelpful compliant handlers would cause them to take their business elsewhere.

Time for some customer-retention communication training. Here are a few tips for effectively handling inquiries and complaints.

  • Communicate with customers in a positive, helpful manner
  • Listen attentively to what the individual has to say.
  • Acknowledge a customer’s bad experience. You can soothe many angry customers with a simple “I’m sorry you had this experience.” This doesn’t admit fault, it’s merely empathizing with the person.
  • Do your best to help. Rather than making excuses, consider what you can do. Offer potential solutions or ask the customer for suggestions.
  • Thank the individual for bringing this problem to your attention.

The benefits of this kind of considerate communication?

A major competitive advantage, along with more satisfied customers, more recommendations and referrals, higher profits.

All good reasons to get right on it!

Show me a Sign!

Sometimes the simplest communication works best.

Take, for example, a recent business meeting. Because of poor communication I missed the meeting entirely. Instead of moving an important project forward, all of us involved lost precious time and productivity. And it was completely preventable.

Here’s why. I was driving to downtown Toronto for this meeting. While I usually take transit, I was going to drop off and pick up several boxes and needed a vehicle. Given it was a Sunday morning, the trip would typically take  a maximum of 30 minutes. Except, without warning the traffic on the highway came to a standstill. I crawled along, then exited to another road, and then another, trying various routes to reach my destination.

Police barricaded streets for miles but weren’t close enough to ask them questions. Hundreds of streetcars, buses and cars were entangled in gridlock. Nowhere was a sign indicating what was happening or where we should go to avoid the road closures.

The trip took 1 1/2 hours. I missed the meeting. In fact, several people did.

Turns out there was a charity run event. Apparently this had been mentioned in the local news but  none of us who were attending the meeting saw this. A news announcement however, should not be the primary means for informing the public about this type of situation. Effective communication requires considering numerous factors such as audience, occasion, location, time, cost and impact.

Seems to me weighing these factors points to a simple communication solution: signage along major routes into an event area, situated well in advance of the event location to allow drivers and transit passengers to choose alternate routes. So much wasted time and misery could have been avoided with one of the most basic communication tools – signage.

This is a good communication lesson for all of us. Let’s not get so caught up in our social media strategy, online presence or mobile apps that we overlook the most fundamental communications to reach our target audiences. Sometimes all it takes is a simple sign.

City of Toronto, are you listening? Show me a sign.

It’s not about Me, it’s about You

When it comes to business writing, it’s always helpful to keep this in mind: it shouldn’t be about me, it should be about you.

In fact this is the single most important rule for effective writing. Too many of us have read to the end of too many documents and still haven’t a clue as to what the writer expects from us.

Don’t be that writer. Instead, be the writer whose documents people like to read because they’re clear and to the point. When you’re writing an email,  letter, article or other business document to inform, request or persuade, this requires thinking about:

1- the goal of this communication, and

2- what you need to communicate to the reader in order to achieve this.

Start by picturing in your mind the recipient and briefly explaining the purpose of your document. Then answer questions the reader might ask, such as:

What – should I do/understand?

Who – is involved with this?

When – should I do it?

Where – should I do it?

How – do I do this?

Why – should I do this?

Wrap up by summarizing why knowing or doing this will benefit the reader.

Before sending it, read the document from the reader’s perspective. Does it seem clear, positive, respectful?

Good. When it’s about you rather than me, you’ll get the results you want.

First rule of effective communication: spell my name write – oops – right

Okay, admittedly neither my first or last name is easy to pronounce or spell. Therefore I’m generally not offended if someone gets my name wrong once or twice. And let’s face it, we all occasionally forget names. However, it’s becoming increasingly common these days for people to misspell and mispronounce names over and over again.

When you communicate with someone in order to persuade them or to request something, getting the  person’s name wrong will not help you achieve your objective.

Correctly remembering someone’s  name is the most important rule of effective communication. If I read “Corinne” on an email, you immediately have my attention. On the other hand, if I see Connie, Coreen, Coryn, Corrine or hear “kor-een” or “corn” instead of “kor-in,” here are my reactions. First I’m miffed the sender couldn’t be bothered to look up the spelling of my name or ask me how to pronounce it. Second, in my mind this person’s competence falls a notch. And third, I’m less likely to want to do what this individual wants me to do.

Using someone’s name correctly shows respect for the individual. This helps to create a positive connection and increases your chances of getting the other person onside with the goal of your communication.

So take just a few seconds before writing an email or calling someone whose name you aren’t familiar with and check the spelling or pronunciation. And please don’t use the shortcut of omitting the name entirely. Few people like being greeted with a generic “hi.” Most will interpret this as “hi-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-remember-your-name.”

Always  try to spell and pronounce names correctly. It’s not only courteous, it’s effective communication.

Use It or Lose It

Writing is different than reading.

Once we learn to read, we don’t forget how to read. This is an enduring skill because most days, we read at least a little something. We’re not even aware of reading when we’re reading.

But, when  it comes to writing skills, if we don’t use ’em, we can lose ’em.

As many of us increasingly rely on short-form communications like texts and tweets, we can lose the ability to write clear sentences and logical paragraphs – essential skills in many positions and fields of work.

So be sure to use it if you don’t want to lose it.

Practise writing at work and away from work. At work, request opportunities to write documents such as letters, reports, presentations or articles. Ask for feedback on your writing to help you improve.

Away from work, write what inspires you to want to write: notes, poems, plays, songs,  blogs, books, biographies, recipes. Any kind of writing that you do will improve your skills.

So don’t lose it, use it, and you’ll find that your writing skills will add value to your work and to your life.

Master the Thanks

When it comes to communicating effectively, there’s lots of opportunity for improvement in expressing gratitude.

When was the last time you were thanked during the course of performing your work? “Thanks for doing this project so quickly.” “Thanks for sending me that document I needed.” “Thanks for explaining to me how the process works.” “Thanks for working this weekend to meet the rush deadline.”

It seems to me that we’re getting better at communicating dissatisfaction and worse at communicating appreciation.

Why is expressing thanks important? Because it can enhance goodwill, build relationships and improve performance – all important influences for advancing our careers and businesses.

Let’s admit it, all of us want to be appreciated for our efforts. So let’s spread some gratitude and master the thanks.

It’s easy to do this by getting into the habit of acknowledging the efforts of people who help and support us. Next time you feel grateful, communicate it: in person, via email, on the phone. “Thank you for your hard work.” “I really appreciate your help with this assignment.”

Such a simple gesture – “thank you.” Such powerful effects: more goodwill, recommendations and referrals, better performance, more positive relationships.

Oh, and thanks for reading this….

You’re probably a worse writer than you think you are

When it comes to building a successful career, good writing skills are essential in many fields. Professionals, managers and executives must be able to write clearly, accurately and competently. They must be able to prepare clear, concise emails. Understandable reports. Letters that make a point. Persuasive proposals. Presentations that engage audiences. Therefore, if you want your career to progress, you need to become a good business writer. Here are four articles I wrote that offer ideas, examples and tips to strengthen your writing.

Think you’re a good business writer?
When someone proclaims, “I’m a good writer” and then we receive a report from this person that’s literally indecipherable, it can be like watching an audition for Canada’s Got Talent…

Write to the right people
It’s not about me. It’s about you.

Get to the point
Ever waded through page after page of a business document until your eyes glazed over, but you couldn’t figure out the point of it?

Watch your language
Don’t let sloppy writing, poor grammar or inappropriate tone undermine your message.