Communication Requires Clarity

by WOHe

How often have you said or heard someone say, “I called them and
they never called me back.” Or, “If I had only known, I could
have.” What about “I didn’t expect to be charged for that work,” “I
thought you told me,” “I just didn’t understand it that way,” “Why
didn’t you tell me?” or “Who is responsible for that?” These
statements are all too common, and are a sign that the salesperson
involved has weak communication skills, or has done a poor job
communicating with the customer.’

Dealing with these statements will, most likely, end up costing
you in two specific areas. First, you’ll have customer service
issues to deal with and, in most of these cases, you’ll have to
start solving the issues with the customer taking an adversary
position. In addition, trying to solve issues from this position
will probably cost you money, because you’ll need to reduce your
expected profits.

The good news is that you can do something about the
communication situation before problems arise. Take the time to
examine your staff’s communication with prospects and customers,
and work on bringing it to a higher level. It will result in a lot
less frustration.’

In this month’s column, I’ve divided communication into focus
areas. There’s no particular sequence; the important areas are the
ones where your staff is weak where they can use improvement. I
believe the premise that salespeople generally feel they are good
communicators is correct. However, anyone selling and designing in
our industry can find areas for improvement.

telephone etiquette
With regard to telephone calls, the first rule to remember is to
return all calls, and to do so in a timely manner. Generally, these
calls come from commitments we make. It’s very easy for us to make
commitments about calling a customer. For example, saying “I’ll
call you tomorrow” means just that, and unless you put it on your
calendar to do so, it may fall through the cracks and not get
done.’

Too often, the reminder about a missed return phone call comes
from the customer, who will call and say, “I thought you were going
call. Is there a problem?” A reply of “Oh, I forgot,” or “I’ve been
too busy” just doesn’t cut it. Frankly, those answers portray an
attitude that the customer isn’t important.

Voice mail is different type of trap, a potential black hole for
important messages. For example, you may leave a voice mail message
letting a client know about the arrival of a product he or she
ordered. Thinking the message has been delivered, you go about with
your routine. Time passes and you hear nothing. When contact
finally does take place, the customer claims he or she never got
the message. The kids, the spouse or anyone using the phone could
have inadvertently erased the message, or deleted the message,
having intented to notify the client, but then having forgotten to
do so.’

So, while voice mail is a wonderful tool, it may fail to
complete the circle of communication, and may cause you problems
down the road. Be sensitive to the fact that when you leave a voice
mail message, you may have to follow up on it.

When you receive a voice mail message, be sure to act on it
promptly. I suggest you follow up with the sender to assure him or
her that you received the message and have taken the proper
action.

detailed explanations
Just as you wouldn’t want to start on a trip without an itinerary
and a map, your customer wants information when embarking on a trip
down the road of remodeling or building. Be sure to communicate
with your client by creating a map and itinerary of expectancy.
Communicate the process your company uses to create successful
projects.

When we explain to prospects that it can take six weeks to get a
product, it’s easy for them to not count the two weeks they spend
procrastinating in making the decisions. Somehow, they don’t see
themselves as slowing down the process.’

I believe the customer needs to be informed as early as possible
any time the outlined expectations cannot be met. No one likes for
the project to drag on, but when time commitments can’t be made,
adjustments in timing must be shared early and accurately. It won’t
be comfortable, but it’s the best way.’

I have to remind myself how sensitive the consumer is about the
accuracy of timing. We, as salespeople/designers, work with the
industry challenges of timing all the time, and are somewhat
conditioned to those challenges.’

However, when it affects the customer, and his or her expectancy
is not being met, expect challenging attitudes to surface. Do the
best you can to avoid this by providing communication that is
timely, accurate and straightforward.

WRAPPING UP
Both wrapping up a project and working through concerns have
similar characteristics, and the communication needed to handle
them properly is also similar. First, get a handle on the
situation. Make sure an accurate list of the details of concern are
documented. Without this complete list and agreement by all
concerned parties, closure will be, at best, evasive.’

Without documentation, it’s easy for people to work off of
inferences. These inferences, once framed by an individual’s
perspective, will vary greatly, and will likely create and heighten
negative emotions when trying to bring a project to a successful
conclusion or a concern to the best resolution. If your list is
incomplete, the consumer will keep it open and continue to add to
it, taking you out’
of control.

To ensure you have fulfilled the expectation you defined in the
selling/design process, I suggest sending a follow-up thank you
letter that asks for the customer’s opinion. If there are harbored
concerns, it’s best that you have the opportunity to respond to
them.

While you may not hear about underlying issues without a
follow-up, you can bet the customer’s family, friends and
co-workers will.
I’ve always found that communication problems in our industry far
outweigh product problems.’

I believe one of the best ways to improve your bottom line and
have more fun with your business is to improve communication.
Clients will be more satisfied, and that will make life a lot
easier for you.

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