In this, the second installment of a five-part series on the Principles of Good CX (Intro here, and Part One here), I’ll present the principle of Communication.  It’s pretty obvious that this is important, but that makes it even more surprising that so many organizations get it so wrong.

I recently spent literally two weeks waiting to hear back from my insurance company on a property claim.  It was a complicated issue (for me, at least, as the Customer) that entailed my insurance company, my neighbor’s insurance company, and the insurance company that covers my HOA.  There were all sorts of complicated (again, for me, I’m not in insurance) dealings between the three carriers having to do with liability and competing deductibles, and meanwhile, I had tradespeople working on repairs to our place who were wondering when and via whom they’d be paid.

Right at the moment that things started to happen, my insurance adjuster went radio-silent.  I was in the throes of confusion and completely in the dark and right when I needed help the most, I got nothing.  I emailed and called, three times combined, over the course of a week.  Out of sheer frustration I called in, selected “0” on the IVR just to speak with anybody who may be able to help me.  I was surely a little sharp and curt with the agent who took my call that day and had her look up my case and put me in touch with my adjuster’s supervisor instead.  What was even most vexing for me (and I mentioned this to the supervisor in a voicemail) was how out-of-character the silence was.  My adjuster had been, up until that moment, very responsive and helpful in coordinating among all the moving pieces and various players in the game.  But now, right when things were getting the trickiest, nothing.

You’ve likely had a relatable situation if you’ve ever been waiting for a plane to take off.  Standing in the terminal at the gate wondering why there’s no aircraft even though you were supposed to board 20 minutes ago.  These days airlines have robust information on their apps (sometimes you know what’s going on before the gate agent does), and I imagine that bit of insight makes us ‘smart enough to be dangerous’ in some cases from their perspective.  One time my delayed flight was waiting on an aircrew.  I asked from where the crew was coming, looked that flight up, and knew when it was landing, which gate my crew would be coming from (and how far that was from me), and therefore whether I had the time or not to go back to the lounge and grab a drink.  Thank goodness for that app, because the gate agent that time was basically not informed enough or (more likely and in her defense) too busy to look up all those details for me.

But in that one small, digital way, my airline provided me with the most valuable thing it could:  Information.  The worst place for your Customer ever to be is in the dark.  Surely you have to keep liability in mind (don’t over-promise or give away the farm), but simply giving no information (or worse, just plain old ignoring your Customers) is absolutely erring in the wrong direction.  Customers understand that things take time and you have an internal process (more on that another time) that requires patience when things go wrong.  It’s one thing to have to call back with bad news (my insurance company started with that, in fact), or even incomplete information as it unfolds.  But it’s quite another to not communicate effectively.  Your Customers deserve nothing less than that.  By not communicating, you’re doing worse than letting your Customers down or disappointing them, you’re eroding whatever goodwill and trust you may have built.

So don’t leave your Customers hanging.  Even if you can’t solve the issue right away, at least tell them what’s going on.  Don’t over-promise or get yourself out over your skis.  But don’t drop the communication ball.  Try some of these approaches:

  • “This is what happened”
  • “This is what we’re doing to fix it”
  • “This is what/when/how the solution could [or should] look”
  • “If anything changes, we’ll let you know”
  • “Here’s how to reach us in the meantime”

Continued communication shows you respect your Customer, trust your Customer, and are empathetic that he or she isn’t likely familiar with your internal workings.  When something goes wrong (or if someone’s simply waiting for an order to arrive), remember that as you are the eyes-and-ears inside the system, you are the trusted advisor and guide on your Customer’s behalf.  Take that responsibility seriously.

In the next installment, we’ll go further into what it means to navigate your systems on behalf of your Customer and why that’s so important.