Thursday, September 20, 2012

Communication - a partnership of speaking and listening

Are you communicating with the business, or are you talking at them?

Communication is a two way process, if you are not getting responses, then you are not really communicating.

I was born to communicate, it's just what I do, and I crave response, because without it I have no way of knowing whether or not I have got my point across. When I was working as a journalist, I always hoped for letters to the editor discussing my articles, whether they agreed with me or not, at least I knew they had read and understood, sometimes in their own way, what I had been saying. I love debating (my mother would probably call it arguing), I was captain of the debating team at school - yes, I was a geek, I was also in the choir and orchestra ;o) - debating, discussing, questioning and answering are all key components of communication...the whole key being the two way channel.

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Too often IT thinks it is communicating with the business by sending out the ubiquitous "IT Update" telling the business what is happening...telling is not communicating, and I know from experience that many of the target audience will have a rule in place to automatically delete, without reading, all such missives!

Hands up if you have done a conference presentation where there have been no questions - how does feel? For me it is very deflating! I know that I do not answer all possible questions when I do a presentation, I make sure there are some open scenarios that are just asking for discussion at the end, if those questions do not come, then I have to assume that I have not communicated adequately for the audience that is in front of me...and that is the key, knowing a bit about each audience, their culture, who they are in the business and in life. Look at the demographics of the conference attendees and make sure you tailor for that audience...a presentation that is greeted enthusiastically in New Zealand or Australia may go down like a ton of bricks in Japan or Finland, and one that hits the spot in California just may not cut it in New York.

It is exactly the same when you are trying to communicate with the business, you need to know who your target audience is and tailor the information, tone and length of communication to that specific audience...there is no one size fits all in this scenario! And, whoever the audience is, give a method of response, preferably one that does not require a lot of effort on their part.

Lets look at one scenario - the major incident - how do you communicate with the business before and after the event, do you send the same information to everybody, regardless of their role in the business? Do you communicate at all? Having a message on a system status page on your intranet is NOT communicating! When something major is going on that affects the way the business works you need to ensure that everybody knows about it. Your ITSM tool probably takes care of letting the major stakeholders know that there is an incident they need to be aware of - can I suggest that you revisit that email text now and ensure that it is tailored for the audience it is intended for, and check who it is going to. But you need to remember that not everyone lives in their inbox, when something really important has happened to your service, get on the phone, call key people in the business to ensure that everyone who needs to know is aware of the situation, this may seem like an unnecessary overhead when you are already stressed by a major incident, but eliminating the frustrated phone calls from customers and users will be well worth the effort.

What do you do with customer feedback from your satisfaction surveys? Do you just add it to a report that you give to management to show how much you are improving? When your customer takes the time to add a comment to a survey form they think they are communicating with you and they deserve a response, even if that is simply a quick call or a email to thank them for taking the time to respond. If you get a particularly negative survey response, with or without a comment, do you go to that customer and initiate a conversation to find out why things went wrong and what you can do to make it better next time?...the mere fact that you have made the effort to communicate over their dissatisfaction may well be enough to improve their view of your IT service, even if you cannot do anything to change the actual situation.

It really isn't rocket science! I am sure that you understand the importance of communication with your husband, wife or significant other, and the importance of being able to respond to that long would your personal relationships last if they were restricted to one way communication with no channel to reply? Treat your customers and users with the same respect and give them the opportunity to answer you, enter into dialogue, around the water cooler, in the kitchen...the stronger your relationship and the better the rapport you are able to build with the business the better the perception of your IT service will be.

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