Keeping in touch…
Whether you’re the bearer of good or bad news, your client wants to hear it from you. Pete Baker stresses the importance of communication in business.
Many years ago, when I had my integration company, I was working on a very nice remodel project. The homeowner was a big Italian guy with a very “strong personality”, but a great guy! The central component in the AV System was a 55” Fujitsu Display for the Family Room, with a retail price of $15,000. At the time there were many other options for a 55” display at half or one-third of the price. The customer wanted the best display device for this main living area in the home; I joined many other industry colleagues in the belief that the Fujitsu panel was the best plasma available.
The installation was just before the Summer Olympics of 2004, in Athens, Greece. The homeowner was a sports fanatic and very excited to watch the event in spectacular detail on the new Fujitsu panel. We installed the panel, fired up the system and the customer was ecstatic!
One week after the install, the Fujutsu had a hardware failure and would no longer power up. The customer was understandably upset and demanded a new panel. There were two problems in honouring his request: 1. Fujitsu would never replace the display, they wanted to repair it, as with most other TV manufacturers; and 2. I had a very small start-up business at the time, and I could not afford to purchase another panel for him while the other was being repaired. To complicate matters further, unknown to me at the time, Fujitsu was in the process of getting out of the Plasma display business (as were many other manufacturers).
Due to the timing, I had some challenges communicating with the company to determine when the parts would arrive. Unfortunately, this challenge went on for a couple weeks.
I remember vividly, one Friday as it was nearing the end of the work. I was incredibly frustrated because I could not reach anyone at the company to provide me with an update to share with the customer. Regardless, I made the decision that I had to call the customer before we embarked on the weekend. I braced for the call, probably said a prayer, crossed fingers and toes, and phoned the customer.
I stated: “Unfortunately, I do not have any updates for you. I have been calling every day but have been unable to get an update on when the parts will arrive. I just wanted to call you and let you know that I have not forgotten about you. I am committed to getting this resolved for you ASAP. I did not want you to go through the weekend wondering if anyone was working on this for you. I assure you that I am on it!”
I took a big breath and expected to get blasted with more demands to bring out a new panel. Instead, I received the most graceful response of appreciation for the call.
This is of course a classic example of bad news is always better than no news at all. The week after the call, the parts arrived and the panel was repaired. I am confident that the homeowner enjoyed the Fujitsu Panel for many years moving forward, as I did with several of my Fujitsu panels – they were truly exceptional.
I have heard many people over the years use the excuse that they did not call someone because they didn’t have an answer for them yet or didn’t know when they could get them back in the schedule – this is never acceptable. I have held numerous management positions over the course of my 30+ years in the CE Industry. I have always said to my team that “poor communication is the root cause of nearly every escalated issue”.
Many businesses have achieved great success through exceptional communication; others have failed miserably due to poor communication.
Just consider the last time you searched a website to find any contact information or surfed through an endless phone maze to reach a live human to speak with about their product or service.
To achieve great success in your business through effective communication, I suggest the following:
Never avoid difficult conversations: As with the example described earlier, it is always best to tackle the tough conversations immediately, rather than letting them simmer and eventually blow up. When it comes to open issues: Time + Silence = Escalation.
We all like updates: Why do you think Amazon sends you constant updates? “Your order is being processed, your order shipped, your order is due to arrive today…” And their business is booming!
When I had my integration company much of my business was referral based, as with many other companies. When I received a referral from a builder, architect, interior designer, or client, I would regularly update the source of the referral.
I would call and say “thank you for referring Mr and Mrs. Smith to me. I had a great meeting with them last night. The had questions about some of the technology, which we addressed for them. I plan to create a system design for their new home and schedule another meeting with them next week. I will let you know how the next meeting goes with them. Thank you again.”
I consider this exercise, and my amazing team, key elements in the revenue doubling in my business every year until the day I sold it.
You are not too busy to communicate: I often hear “I just never had time to get back to them, I’m so busy”. We have all been busy at one point or another in our life and business. When I had my integration company, I also started working part-time for a small (at the time) Control System Manufacturer doing all the sales, technical support, customer service, writing copy for brochures, etc.
I still found time to return every call and email within 24 hours. Being too busy is a poor excuse and will impact your business and reputation.
Your words communicate your character and integrity: If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t make it up! It’s ok to say: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”
Follow up: As I get older, I tell my kids that my memory is full! When something new comes into my brain, I lose something out the other ear. I have a memory leak somewhere. I understand that I may not always remember to follow-up, so I write a lot of lists with items I need to address, so I don’t forget. I would also use this practice in my previous company, to follow up with every customer one month after we completed their installation to see if they were enjoying the system or had any questions or issues for us to resolve. I didn’t want to find out a year later that they never used the system because of X, Y or Z.
Respond, don’t react: We all face difficult or disappointing experiences in life or have ugly issues to tackle. When you are faced with an issue, make sure you gather ALL the facts first, before taking any formal action or decision. I have had countless experiences in life that exposed a whole different story once I had gathered all of the facts and had time to review them.
I have hired many people over the years, and as many of them will tell you, I always said: “I insist on excellent communication. If you can’t follow up with our customers, we will have a BIG problem.”
Best wishes for continued success and excellence in your business!