Customer Experience News & Trends

8 communication mistakes that cost you customers

Employees from all across your organization are in constant communication with customers — and you don’t want anyone falling into these bad communication habits. 

“This is the best time in history to be a competent communicator,” says Geoffrey Tumlin, a corporate communication expert and author of Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life.

“… It can be incredibly difficult to break free of the bad habits associated with distraction, expediency, self-expression and excess that characterize so much of our digital-age communication.

“Yet if we are willing to cast off some of our bad communication habits, we can optimize opportunities to connect productively and meaningfully with other people,” Tumlin says.

Paying more attention to what we communicate to customers and what they tell us will be the key to improving customer experiences in 2014.

Here are the most relationship-damaging communication errors — and tips for stopping/avoiding them:

1. Multitasking

146864865Nearly everyone who deals with customers is guilty of this. Contact center agents may look at email (or worse, Facebook) when customers are on the phone with them. Salespeople may be driving while attempting to close a deal on Bluetooth. Marketers may try to tweet on one too many Twitter accounts at the same time.

Distractions pop up, minds wander and attention is divided, making it more difficult than ever for front-line people to focus on the customer in front of them.

To listen better, try these tips from Joanna Brandi, publisher of The Customer Care Coach self-study programs and author of 54 Ways to Stay Positive in a Changing, Challenging and Sometimes Negative World:

  • Remove distractions. If you’re supposed to be on the phone, shut down any programs on your computer other than the one you need to help customers. Get out of eyesight of colleagues when you attend to customer work. Put away your cell phone and other personal items.
  • Recognize that listening is something you do for personal success, not just to be polite or “nice.” Good listening earns power and respect, and gets you the information you need to be effective. Good listening is discipline with a vision of trust and understanding.
  • Want to listen better. View listening as a small investment of time and energy that produces an enormous return via understanding and connection. Make the commitment to listen to understand, not just reply.
  • Become less self-centered. You may be the only one who believes what you have to say is more important than the other person. Maybe you’re wrong. Keep an open, curious mind.
  • Be quiet! You can’t talk and listen at the same time. Take a breath and then open your ears.
  • Listen for ideas and feelings, not just words. Get the whole picture. Listen for the emotional tone. Convey empathy.
  • Think like the customer. Consider things from the speaker’s point of view and you’ll understand and retain better.
  • Hold your fire! Don’t interrupt! Suspend judgments and hold your rebuttal. Let your defensiveness go. It won’t get you anywhere.

2. Focusing on what we want to say

157601193A major — and often overlooked — mistake in communication is focusing on what we want to say, rather than what we want to accomplish. Salesmen might want to get all the benefits of a product in their presentation, but never address why it’s a good fit for customers. Marketers may not put the best promotion out there because they focus on key product words instead of the emotion they want to evoke from customers. Service pros might be thinking of their response instead of the outcome customers want.

Try to write the goal of customer interactions into the notes you take from a conversation to stay focused on moving toward that goal.

“Smart communicators realize that by focusing on what they want to accomplish instead of what they want to say, they keep their conversational goals in their rightful place – above their feelings in terms of priority,” says Tumlin.

3. Letting our mouth get ahead of our mind

180272933Many times customers’ interactions with you are driven by emotion — whether it’s a complaint fueled by a product or service failure or a sudden need in a stressful emergency. Those are sometimes dangerous times to communicate with customers because the emotions can cause people to say things they wouldn’t if they were calm.

The key is to avoid acting in kind when customers are upset or agitated. However, showing excitement, tempered with professionalism, when they are happy is a good thing.

“A simple but powerful way to improve communication … is to stop talking and think for a minute whenever you’re frustrated or upset,” says Tumlin. “… You need to pause long enough to keep your more thoughtful and deliberative brain in charge of selecting the words you’re going to express.”

4. Not prioritizing

454931345Conversations with customers come at us constantly — via phone, email, social media, texts, personal visits, etc. While it’s important to handle them all, it’s more important to handle them smartly. That way we don’t end up putting too much time and resources into less-pertinent customer issues and expectations and not enough into what matters most.

A good triage system allows healthcare professionals to manage their intense environment, and it can work for customer communications, too. Categories can include:

  • Now — these communications require an immediate, solution-based conversation, and this category should never be overly filled.
  • Delay — this is where to put issues that could disappear or resolve themselves.
  • Avoid — this is where to put highly emotional, complicated or volatile situations that require serious time and focus. But you don’t want to avoid them for good.

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