Communication Builds Relationships

by Nate Hunter

Communication is evident in all we do, whether we realize it or not. Our verbal and written communications, as well as our nonverbal actions, display how much we care about ourselves, those around us, and our profession. Throughout history the methods of communication have continued to change, while the need for it has remained strong. Mail made it possible to correspond within a few days the current events from a different area. The telephone allowed us to know what’s happening right now on another continent. Cell phones are no longer just phones, but gateways to a worldwide communication network the riders of the Pony Express could never have imagined. Electronic messages, feeds and updates make us more informed and connected than ever before. Despite any changes in the methods, though, clear communication is vital to each of us if we are to successfully care for our daily responsibilities. No matter what part of the industry we are in, improving in our ability to communicate enhances the store level experience. Why is it important? How can we improve? Let’s consider a few ways.

Enhance Communication

Champion teams have their leaders and playmakers, but each play by each player builds up to a team accomplishment. No matter whom we work with or where, we become a team and involved in each other’s lives. When stress and turmoil affect us, it affects those around us. By taking time to get to know one another, we build up relationships that help us to work as a team. When we take time to get to know those in our department, those we provide service for, or those on the front lines at our stores, we appreciate them much more and are better able to help them. When we are not in a position to help them at certain times, due to circumstances beyond our control, perhaps, the relationship we have built with them makes it more understandable.

Results in the Field

This approach also applies to the field. When each store feels a part of the team, it is easier to communicate what is needed. When managers understand that we are asking them for additional information, not because we don’t trust them, but because we are trying to help, they respond more clearly and appreciatively. It also helps to lower the defenses when asked the dreaded question of “why.” When we train our stores to volunteer that information, it pays off in the long term. So take the few extra moments and get details on what is really going on at the store. Much of it has to do with what our expectations from the store are. Do they know why we need to know more information? Explain it to them. Taking an extra minute from a busy schedule to do that pays off in the long term. Future requests are more clearly explained. The distance between the store and the home office becomes much smaller.

How to Accomplish This

To accomplish this, whether by phone, email or website, take the time to explain more clearly. Stores can assist by providing full details, perhaps even pictures of the need. Facilities teams can help their service providers by explaining more details or giving reasons for deadlines. More communication also builds trust between the facilities team and the store, the facilities team and the service provider, and the service provider and the store. When the service provider has the same information the store has, and understands the urgency, the relationship with the store improves, and the necessary building repairs are much easier to deal with. Service providers can take time in advance to understand the needs of each store to better understand why certain things are important, possibly by visiting the store when not making a repair or observing other aspects of the store while making a repair. As an example, an electric failure is always urgent. But knowing the store has a freezer full of perishable foods makes an informed service provider act with more urgency. An explanation to the service provider that the store is having the biggest sale day of the year helps them to perhaps pull a technician from a nearby job to assist. Understanding these matters up front or communicating them as needed help all to restore a proper environment when failures happen or repairs are needed.

Express Expectations Freely

A policy handbook, contract or service level agreement is vital and we have to keep within its bounds, but with one sentence we can sum it up by explaining why a service request is important. Train the store to express it clearly. They are the front lines. Service providers can ask more questions to understand the need. Basic requests are easily understood, but the additional explanations help to strengthen the connection as to what is going on. For example, a manager who simply asks for the store to be rekeyed will open themselves up to additional questions. If the request is “please rekey the store today because we had a dismissal” it is more clearly understood. This can be passed on to the service provider to ensure they understand the importance, thus becoming part of the team. As another example, a service provider that clearly explains to the corporate office that they can’t get to the store this afternoon because there is half an inch of ice on the ground is understood much more than by just saying we had to reschedule for tomorrow. This even helps the home office to realize that staffing may be reduced at the store because of this. Providing clear communication and reasons can also lead to better pricing. Explaining why an estimate is not accepted or is deferred or why the pricing is too high or right on puts all involved on the same page, thus building a relationship where each party understands the other. Again, by offering additional communication and reasons up front, more is understood and accomplished faster.

Take the Time

We all wish we could respond to every phone call, every voice mail, every email right away, but maybe we can’t, so what do we do? Can we create more time? Start by putting together a list of actions that need to be accomplished today. Then when we don’t get to all of them, move those to the next day! Are there nonessential activities each day to buy out time from? Keep a mental or written list of what we actually do in a day, and compare it to the initial to-do list. Also, take the time to communicate. We close our doors for meetings, sometimes even turn off our phones for meetings, so what if we shut down for just 15 minutes to keep up with the important communications we need to?

Communication is the lifeblood of all we do. By working to constantly improve our skills in it, by whatever method we choose (verbal, written, electronic), we can build relationships that improve our teamwork and, ultimately, our customer experience.


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