Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Business communications 101

I shouldn’t have to say this. But recent events compel me to.
  1. If you want me to sign and fax back a contract so you can charge my credit card for the deposit on the banquet facility in your major brand name hotel, a transaction you engage in many times a week, then please include the fax number on your major brand name hotel letterhead that you print the contract on.
  2. If you’re not going to do that and instead you post your fax number on your major brand name hotel Web site, along with your phone number and your 800 number, take a moment to verify that you’ve actually posted the correct 800 number on your site and not some special, protected 800 number that asks me to enter an access code before completing the call.
  3. If you decide to save money by setting up a customer service call center in a country where English is not the primary language, remember that workers have to be tested on both their ability to communicate in English and their ability to solve customer problems. Having one without the other is not saving the company money.
  4. In general, try to ensure that your customer service representatives and your sales representatives know at least as much about your products and services as your customers know.
  5. If you send out monthly statements to thousands of customers, make some effort to design the statement so customers can easily figure out how much they owe you and when it’s due.
I won’t bore you with the details.

But I have a point. Most businesses live in a competitive environment. And in a competitive environment, being careless or cheap about customer communications and customer service, while it may lower short-term costs, is going to kill you in the end.

I am constantly astounded at how large—and even not so large—companies can keep going on the strength of their brand identities for year after year before inertia is suddenly not enough to sustain them anymore and they crash and burn. Meanwhile, they see hiring communications professionals (I’m talking about rubber-meets-the-road writers, editors, and training designers, not vice presidents of corporate communications) as an expense they cannot afford.

Not all industries follow that pattern. When I call a book manufacturer about a printing job, I invariably reach a knowledgeable customer service rep who can solve any problem I throw at her. Printers know the competitive landscape and they know that customer service is key to their profits. Sadly, most of the other industries I come in contact with, both in my business life and in my life as an ordinary consumer, don’t understand that.

Words matter. Accuracy matters. Knowledge matters. Attention must be paid or the piper will be.


David Farbey said...

Hah! Very familiar, I'm afraid. Here in the UK I wanted to find out about long term car rentals, and I wen to the web site of a leading rental company. There was a highlighted box on the main page with the message "For long-term rentals please phone this number" which looked promising. But "this number" went directly to the voice mail of one specific employee, and I learnt that "Julie is on holiday this week". Hope she had a really nice holiday while I wtook mey business elsewhwer.

India said...

Printers know the competitive landscape and they know that customer service is key to their profits.

This is true of most of them. But lately I find myself in the unfamiliar position of having a printer rep who is unreliable. Doesn't do things he says he's going to do. Doesn't respond to e-mails or phone calls promptly--or sometimes ever. Screws things up, almost routinely.

It's been so long since I've had a bad printer rep that I've forgotten how to deal with it, besides CCing every e-mail to one of his colleagues. I don't want to rat him out, because I can't tell how much of the problem is with the company, and how much is with the guy, but either way, it makes me want to switch vendors, as much of a nuisance as that is.

I can screw up enough things on my own, thank you very much. I don't need a flake on the other end of the phone, too.