Hello can we talk?

Neil Pattemore looks at the importance of effective communication for businesses – in several contexts

Published:  16 May, 2019

I have been known to say that “Communication is a wonderful thing." Usually the context of this statement is that there has not been good communication and it has resulted in one or both of us missing something or being agitated with one another for not communicating well to the other what was intended.
    
Probably sounds familiar to many of you, but in the business context it is vitally important that you can communicate with your customers in a way that conveys professionalism and instils both confidence and trust. This is ever-more difficult against a background of increasing vehicle technology and decreasing levels of technical understanding from your customers.
    
At its most fundamental level, effective communication is the exchange of thoughts, information, ideas, and messages between people. However, it’s not communication unless the transmission is understood. Communication can happen verbally, nonverbally, in writing, and through behaviour as well as by listening and using feedback.
    
No matter who or what audience you address, the art of communication can be a daunting task – as indeed, it is an art form. The good news is that there are seven steps to clear and effective communication for even the most challenging conversations with customers when trying to explain what is wrong with their vehicle.

Strategies
So how can you communicate effectively in this increasing technical environment? One of the best ways is to imagine that you are talking to your grandmother – she may be a little slow to understand, is very non-technical and is going a little deaf!
    
Keep it simple: Think about how you can make the complicated simple. Do not use highly technical terms or technical abbreviations and explain slowly and clearly. A good example would not be to say: "Sorry, but your EGR valve is blocked by carbon build up on the pintle needle so now it can’t control the correct NOx requirements." Instead, say: "There is a valve on your vehicle’s engine which is required to control exhaust emissions and it is not working correctly." If the customer wants to know more you could always add: "Because it is blocked by carbon build up from the exhaust system, as it recycles exhaust gasses to reduce the exhaust emissions."

Simples! – as they say.
    
Does it make sense? Always ask yourself; Does what I’m saying make sense to the person I am speaking to and subsequently does the feedback I’m receiving confirm that they have understood?. When both parties in the conversation are truly able to say they understand or that it is all clear  effective communication has been achieved.
    
Failure to Communicate – it’s down to you: Remember, as the primary communicator you are 100% responsible for the other person’s understanding of the communication. In other words, if you don’t feel that you are being understood, you have not completed the job of communicating. Don’t try to change what you are trying to communicate, but how you are communicating it.
    
Stay on Message: Be clear about what ideas you are trying to express or the message you are trying to convey to the other person. What do you most want them to understand?
    
It takes two: Try to really understand where others are coming from. What are they trying to say? What messages are they trying to get across to you? Pay special attention not just to what they are saying, but to what isn’t being said as well as their body language. Finally, if in doubt – ask!
    
Sorry, what did you say? Do you really hear what others are saying? To really listen you should stop everything else that you are doing and really listen to what is being said to you. You should then summarise your understanding by being able to feed back to them exactly what you have understood them to have said. Good communication is a two-way thing.
    
Respect: Recognise that your message is not just about you or what you want. It’s about what’s in it for the listener.  You must mutually understand what is being said and the corresponding implications. After all, they took the time and trouble to hear what you have to say, so it’s equally important to recognise and respect that we each have different perspectives based on our positions, motivations, and needs.
    
Good communication for technically difficult aspects is a combination of both ‘what you say and how you say it’. In summary, keep it simple, keep it short, be a good listener and be both respectful and empathetic. Above all, avoid being condescending.

In writing
When communicating in writing, ensure that you are concise, that you write clearly about the specific point and consider that if you were in the recipient’s position, would they understand what you have written, especially in all the points that they need to know from you. Your audience doesn't want to read six sentences when you could communicate your message in three. Read what you have written and delete any words that are not needed to clearly explain what you need to say. Less is more, as long as you include everything you need to say.
    
Effective written communication ensures that the audience has everything they need to be informed about, and if applicable, take action. If your message does include a 'call to action', does your audience clearly know what you need them to do?

Good example
As an example of good communication, I use a local independent workshop and Keith, the manager, is the epitome of how it should be done. It goes something like: "Hello Neil, your car is in today for a full service, so we will need it until around 2 o’clock. Can I have the key please? Is this mobile number the best to use so we can call you if I have any questions or to let you know when it is ready and finally is there anything else you would like us to know about that we may need to look at today?" Followed by my reply: "Great Keith, no, nothing else, so many thanks and see you later."
    
Quick, polite and concise. When I pick my car up, he uses similarly simple and clear language to explain what was done, advice on any other issues they noticed before explaining the invoice, asking if everything is clear or are there any questions before requesting payment. Importantly, Keith never tries to baffle his customers with technical terms and avoids being condescending – important points in the key areas of creating professionalism, confidence and trust in this increasingly technical environment. It is a bit like your grandmother saying that the simple things in life are often the best and this applies to good communication when talking technical.  

xenconsultancy.com

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    Information
    Edward Cockhill of Uckfield Motor Services in Uckfield East Sussex observed: "It is quite an eye-opener. I saw marketing as just advertising, whereas it is really the whole perception of my company. There is a lot of cogs that are going to be turning when I get home. "
        
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