6 ways internal communications cost you customers

This executive wants to change corporate culture by making communicators aware that employees talk to customers the way they are talked to. Do you have an “employee voice”?

Many business leaders, determined to maintain control and efficiency, fail to recognize the direct effect employees and internal culture exert on customer experience. Internal communications are a huge part of that culture.

Have you considered how the internal language you use affects the way you deliver information to your customers?

It’s not just about saying what needs to be said:

But how the people in your organization say it:

If you were the owner of this firm, how would you feel if you’d popped in for a long-overdue visit? Wouldn’t you die!? This sign, probably not sanctioned by the company, perhaps fits the internal culture too well. It was a customer who snapped this photo! If only the owners knew employees felt this way before the employees had conveyed that sentiment to customers.

Would YOU know?

We see the same mistakes over and over again.

It’s hard to take sometimes. We have no choice but to communicate in certain ways, thanks to legal, HR and others, and we must follow the rules! But that institutional, bureaucratic tone finds its way into internal communications that don’t need to be lifeless. Consider how messages to employees affect the experience you deliver to customers. If your internal communications don’t jibe with what customers hear and see, do something different.

Here’s how your internal communications set the tone for a lackluster customer experience:

1. Your communications avoid the truth.

I’m no stranger to those uncomfortable situations when there’s an ugly truth to communicate to employees. Sometimes we simply don’t know the whole truth yet. Will employees be laid off or transferred? We often don’t know these things until moments before they happen. Be honest and say “We don’t know.” If you have no information to offer, ask for patience and be sensitive to your employees’ need to stay informed.

2. You assume your employees don’t understand what’s happening.

The press buzzes and the break room is full of whispers. It’s dangerous to ignore those signals. Deal with them. It’s OK to say “Let’s talk about those rumors” and tell the story they are waiting to hear. Treat your employees as reasonable adults, and they will respond.

3. You create negative perceptions by communicating too late.

Your employees jump to conclusions when you don’t state things promptly. We’ve been trained to do so. Your strategy should be to communicate regularly and often. Your culture should embody keeping your employees IN the loop, not on the edge of it.

4. You use patronizing pronouns.

Sometimes the internal communication editing I do centers on this simple change. We read the words “you should . . .” as a judgment. They are accusing and patronizing. “We would like” can change the whole tone of your message. “You should be turning in your timesheets on a regular basis” differs greatly from “We would like to complete our timesheet documentation by Friday at 3:00. Please complete your timesheets by 12:00 Fridays.”

It’s not “us and them” and “you and me.” It’s “we” as often as you can. If you can’t change this in your internal messages, then you have a much bigger culture problem.

5. You forget to say “please” and “thank you.”

It amazes me this is still an issue in many organizations. A few years back, I worked with a company whose signs and other customer communications were super nice and friendly. They used approachable language. But their training memos? Every single employee received one, regardless of where they were in training, and the memo never included a “Dear Suzy” to buffer the blow. They wrote wordy corporate-speak. A typical sentence read: FAILURE TO COMPLETE TRAINING via the XRS System by Wednesday, September 1st will result in FORFEITURE OF YOUR ANNUAL BONUS.

Nothing like a threat to warm you up to an idea, right?

6. You’re not proactively watching for distress signals.

Thanks to social media, employees tell us more than ever before. Yes, there are horror stories: Employees live tweeting their own firing and dissing their bosses in blogs. Savvy business leaders read the smoke signals before it gets to that point. Pay attention to those signals and take action before it blows up!

These are a few ideas to improve customer experience by improving internal communications. What are yours?

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/founder of 360Connext, where a version of this article originally appeared.

(Image via)


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