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August 2011


Customer Communication

A few years ago our firm was hired to study communication needs in the Baltimore-Washington Region.  We interviewed, surveyed, and held focus groups with over 1,000 business professionals, asking one question:  "If your organization had only enough money, resources, and time to perform training in one area of communications which area would it be:  Reading, Writing, Speaking, or Listening?

Reading and Writing combined received 5% of the vote; Speaking received 40%; Listening received 55%.  Sound similar to your organization’s needs?  Want to improve your communications with your customers?  Start with these steps.

Key Communication Steps

1. Get There In Person

Our research shows that the words themselves account for only 8-10% of the message in interpersonal communication; the spoken sounds account for 30-40% of the message; and the non-verbal elements account for 50-60% of the real message you are trying to send. 

If you want to be clear, and have the most effective communication possible, then add these three parts together - get there in person.  At least have a telephone conversation.  But please do not send a memo or e-mail to a customer if the message is urgent, confusing, or emotional.

2. Gain Power With The Person

Two specific behaviors will help you to gain power with (not power over) others in your life:

  • Sincere, specific compliments
  • Effective, empathic listening

Compliments can be given face-to-face or in writing - the key is to give them sincerely, for specific behaviors that you admire and want more of.  Listening can be done by anyone, anywhere - the keys are: make eye contact, focus on the person, pay attention, show interest with your body language, withhold judgment, ask only reflective (not investigatory) questions, DO NOT offer advice until and unless the person asks for it.

3. Skill vs. Attitude

Communication has two parts:

  • Skill, the behaviors we actually do, the words we actually say when we communicate.
  • Attitude, the mood or feeling behind our actions and words.

I would suggest that attitude accounts for about 90% of our effectiveness as communicators, and the skill accounts for about 10%.  You can do every behavior wrong, but if your attitude fundamentally says that your compliment was sincere, that you really want to listen, then your behaviors will have the desired effect.  If you perform the behaviors perfectly, but your attitude tells the person that you fundamentally do not care or that you are being insincere, then your attempts will fail.  I cannot teach you attitude, but you can learn it from the best communicators you know.  Watch them closely and often, and model what they do.



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