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Education Article

Critical Components of Effective Communication

NCSA Education Article

In his book, Managing Service Excellence, C. William Crutcher tells us that we communicate for five reasons:

  • To inform or share
  • To direct
  • To seek guidance or clarity
  • To build relationships
  • To admonish or correct

According to Crutcher, surprisingly but appropriately, the one on which we spend over 50 percent of our time is building relationships. While likely in shorter segments, we are constantly learning about others and they about us as we interact. What does this mean for customer service, then? In order to best serve our customers, we must learn about them. Too much energy required?  Possibly. Worth the effort if we want to attract and retain customers? Yes.

Crutcher tells us that there are always senders and receivers in the communication process, and the message can become confusing depending on the medium chosen and any "noise" that occurs in the midst of the process. “Noise” can include:

  • Sounds—the typical noise we think of, e.g., crowded restaurant, heavy traffic, etc. We strain to hear and listen and sometimes "check out" when the effort is too much work
  • Filtering—giving less than full or accurate information because we are concerned with the potential response.
  • Selective reception—hearing what we want to hear versus what is being said.
  • Emotions—the more emotional we are, the less we “hear.”
  • Information overload—we have so much information coming at us constantly. Some we seek (e.g., on the internet), while other information comes to us in "piles" as we go to meetings, read an intense report, etc.
  • Defensiveness—particularly when we are presented with a problem, we may spend too much of our time proving we are right rather than seeking an effective resolution/
  • Language / jargon—often we toss around company-specific terms too easily and may actually slightly enjoy the confused look on others' faces who aren't "in the fold."
  • Culture—we all come from different life experiences, and those experiences have created our culture—what we expect and appreciate from others—while it may be unbeknownst to them.

Act on those things you control.  Choose the setting (when at all possible) to talk with someone, whether in person or on the phone, so that you can hear them clearly and not be overheard inappropriately. Give them the respect of removing yourself from distractions, which then allows for the best use of your collective time.

If we sense that the discussion will be emotional for us, we should prepare for what we feel will be a comfortable level of sharing and be ready to really "hear" responses to our thoughts. It is only fair that the other party be heard as well if we intend to further the dialogue.

Consider any cultural differences we and the other party may have; e.g., the older people get, the more they may like to share information and expect respect while they do so. By appropriately preparing for the conversation (potentially number one out of many), we also reduce the likelihood of becoming defensive, which automatically closes off the dialogue.

We definitely control the use of language / jargon, so drop it—it doesn't impress those outside our "world" and only causes separation instead of closeness with the person with whom we are attempting to engage.

If we are truly in the customer service business (which is wise if we want to stay in business—any business), analyzing the opportunities we have to build relationships with potential / actual customers is critical. Always be aware of the potential distractions mentioned above from Crutcher's book that can produce a negative versus a positive relationship with a customer. Don't fall into the trap of continuous partial attention (CPA).

To be successful in relating to our customers, we must:

  1. Acknowledge that taking a few minutes to learn about the customer’s background, preferences, etc. is time well spent.
  2. Watch for nonverbals that will clue us in as to whether our questions are welcome or not.
  3. Consider the setting in which you are having the conversation and what kinds of "noise" might distract either of the participants from sending and receiving the intended message.
  4. Make sure our language is "user-friendly."
  5. Get to business quickly using what we have learned about them to better satisfy their needs.
  6. Continue to grow the relationship with each encounter.

So, it is our choice—what are our customers worth? What is our time worth? We choose with every interaction—all within our control. Do the right thing.