More about communicating effectively, not excessively

OK, I’ll admit it: Following on the heels of my constant criticism of those who only respond to one of several points in an email, I did it myself this week. It got me thinking about finding the sweet spot between providing too little information to fully address and too much information to get full responses.

In the world of customer service, it’s generally safe to presume that:

  • Customer service reps are bombarded with so many complaints, so much frustration, and so many messages that they will tune out at a certain level. While their job in most cases requires full attention, human nature dictates that this is a pipedream;
  • Many companies incentivize their customer service reps to deal with people as quickly as possible to maximize productivity (or penalize them for not doing so). Given this pressure, people naturally will try to hit the high points and move on to the next customer;

  • Constant complaints and criticism predispose reps to be naturally defensive. This becomes much worse when they are berated, sworn at, belittled and/or threatened. This environment requires overcoming big obstacles just to do a reasonable job of providing customer service.

So, how can customers communicate in ways that get needs met efficiently and effectively? Here are several tried-and-true (although often too easily forgotten) techniques:

  • Use the note-in-a-bottle method. If you’re stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean and have a chance to send a note in a bottle to potential rescuers, what will you say? Odds are the message will be very brief and to the point. You want to maximize the amount of information provided in as little space as possible. Think about how you would curate your communication to be both brief and clear while sitting on that island, then use the same approach with your customer service challenge.
  • Appeal to human nature. When communicating via email, text, phone or face-to-face, consider what will spur naturally human emotions to help. An email with the subject line, “I need your help, please” is more likely to be well-received and acted upon than, “Your company sucks and you damn well better fix it.” While the latter may be heartfelt and accurate, it’s not as effective to get the response you want. When I approach PR people to get help with a customer service problem, I consistently find the “your help, please” approach to be the way to go. It’s also brief and to the point.
  • Prioritize the importance of points you want to make. In situations where there is a complicated issue, start out by summarizing in one sentence or short paragraph the nature of the situation. Then, where necessary you can provide additional details. Worst case, hopefully, the crux of the concern will be understood. In some instances, the customer service rep will read all the way through to get the full picture before responding. Numbering the points you want to make helps this process—telling the recipient that there are multiple thoughts to consider.

In an increasingly overwhelmed and inattentive world, addressing the basics rapidly and respectfully significantly increases the odds of getting the resolution you want.

Information overload coupled with inattention is creating a variety of customer service challenges. One of them, seemingly ironically, is over-communication that leads to incomplete reading and, in some cases, lack of action altogether.

Do you have customer service snafus or stellar experiences to share? If so, feel free to comment on this post or email your thoughts to mark@marklusky.com.

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Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

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