Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Four essential factors in communication


There are four essential factors in communication—our intent, criteria, content and process. With a situation in mind, explore each of these with me.

Our intent is our purpose—what we want to accomplish in the exchange. So often a conversation is like a pinball machine—we pull a lever and that little steel ball just ricochets off this peg and that. A good conversation is more like archery. We must take careful aim if we want to hit the mark.

I'll give you three synonyms for the second essential factor in communication: our criteria, expectations or needs. These are the relevant factors to be taken into consideration. Each of us can bring very different criteria to the same situation. Some of us want things right now, others want things to be perfect, while still others want to avoid conflict. It's important that we share our criteria with the person we're talking to.

The content is what we end up talking about. If we haven't made our intent clear and haven't shared our criteria, the content can become the battleground. There are two words that signal the discussion we're having is about to deteriorate into an argument. We call them absolutes—always and never. "You're always late." "Am not." "Are too." "Am not." "Are too." Conversation over and nothing accomplished.

The last essential factor in communication is the process—how we communicate. Albert Mehrabian in his book, Silent Messages, determined that if our message is incongruent, people will depend on what they see—our facial expressions and body language—for 55% of the message they receive; what they hear—the tone, volume, pace and pitch of our voice—for 38% of the message they receive; and our words for a mere 7% of the message people receive. These statistics refer to face-to-face conversations and IF our communication is incongruent. We want to make sure our voice and body language agree with the words that we way. We need to strive for congruent communication.

When we are careful to share our intent and criteria with others, when we think through our content and process, we are much more likely to get the results we want.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Keep Your Customers and Clients Coming Back

While researching his book, The Customer Driven Company, Richard Whitely surveyed fourteen corporations and found that 70% of the identifiable reasons customers stopped doing business with a company had to do with service lapses such as a lack of personal attention or unhelpful employees.

Another survey revealed that the average American business loses 15% of its customer base each year: 68% of these customer leave because of an attitude of indifference from a company employee. That is, the customer's perception of the employee's attitude.

Training needs to focus on helping customer-contact employees develop an awareness of how others might perceive them. Simply becoming aware of the impression we make on others can be the motivation to change. Here are seven steps you can take to lead customer-contact employees toward a service image that places satisfied customers at its heart.

1) Start by asking, "How do you want customers to perceive the people who work in our company?" In his book, Silent Messages, Albert Mehrabian cited results of his experiments: "…people's implicit behavior has more bearing than their words on communicating feelings or attitudes to others."

2) Communicate specific expectations of behavior to employees. There's no such thing as common sense!

3) Take time at staff meetings to role-play how to deal with customers on the phone. People need, in the words of Robert Waterman, "directed autonomy." They need both specific direction and the freedom to make choices that help accomplish the goal.

4) It's essential that employees be able to recognize benefits to themselves,for everyone is tuned to that radio station—WII-fm. What's in it for me?

5) Rather than saving praise and suggestions for that dreaded performance review, offer them freely and frequently. Compliment employees on their everyday achievements. Come up with ways to acknowledge them: send a thank you note or bestow a fun award at a staff meeting.

6) As employers and managers, we can serve as models of the behavior we would like to see from our employees. It's important to realize that we can't change other people, we can only change ourselves. But, by altering our actions and reactions, we can influence the response we get. By altering their actions and reactions, employees can influence the responses they get from their customers.

7) Remember to acknowledge employees' strengths. Celebrate what you already do right and then take a look at those things you can do to better manage the impression your company projects.

You can create a service image that draws customers and keeps them coming back. For, customer satisfaction is about feelings. In the words of Karl Albrecht, co-author of Service America, "However your employees feel is how your customers are going to feel, sooner or later." A satisfied customer is a loyal customer and in a service business, that's the bottom line.

Giving feedback that can be heard—and gets results

Our goal when giving feedback is to establish mutual purpose and demonstrate respect. To this end, here are six steps you can follow:

1. Start with a positive statement or point of agreement

2. Describe the current situation
• Be specific as to what the violation is—avoid general, vague terms
• Reference the employee guidelines or special directives

3. Describe the impact and consequences
• Effect the behavior has on customers/clients
• Impact on the organization with a personal hook for the employee—what’s in it for them
• Sanctions that will be applied for repeated offenses, if appropriate

4. Get them brainstorming solutions
• Help them create an action plan

5. End with a positive, future focus

6. Follow up. Give them positive feedback when they are doing things right!