This tale might sound familiar to you - an example of communication at its best (not!)
One of my clients recently had an interesting encounter with a government agency. It turned out the agency moved the goalposts halfway through a tender process, leaving my client at a big disadvantage.
It just didn’t seem fair. Possibly against my better judgement – and only because I’ve spent a long time working in and with similar agencies - I offered to take the issue further.
I bravely navigated their phone system and was told to put my concern in writing, which I did. I was fascinated to see what happened next!
Sure enough, there it was - the straight-off-the-template reply advising me my matter would be responded to within 10 working days. If it was urgent (and whose isn’t?) I could call their customer service centre - which I already had, and been told to put it in writing. I was in the dreaded holding pattern.
By now, my client's frustration and anxiety levels were off the chart.
In the same week, my LinkedIn feed carried a post from someone who works at that same organisation, praising it as an innovative and responsive employer. They’re a reputable person and I know they had honourable intentions writing their post. But their view didn’t stack up with our direct experience of the organisation.
This is a great reminder to all of us that our communication can no longer be surface-level spin – it must be a true reflection of the values at the core of our business. If there’s a mismatch between what we say and how others experience us, we have a problem. We’ve set an expectation that we aren’t meeting – and we’ve opened ourselves up to negative public comment from the very people we are trying to serve.
Even though their customers/clients now hold most of the power in the public communication game, the behaviour of many businesses is trapped in the practices of two decades ago. Back then, organisations held all the communication cards. The rest of us had to wait for a response and lump it if we didn't get one.
Now, the scales have tipped the other way. People out there have no shortage of information (accurate and otherwise) about your business and they share it freely. If what they hear or experience is negative, the speed of that sharing ramps up with ferocious intensity.
I encounter many leadership teams who remain nervous – some, even paranoid – about engaging on social media at any remotely deep level for fear of negative comment or fully-fledged backlash. They believe the risk lies within the channel itself; the fact that Facebook has opened them up to an instant global audience.
What they’ve failed to recognise is that their organisational behaviour poses the far greater risk. By looking within and making sure their corporate behaviour matches their public statements – they do what they say they’ll do - they're far less likely to experience negative comment.
It’s almost like they’re stuck on the other side of a big divide, and can’t see a way to cross it – even though the bridge is obvious to the rest of the world. It’s pretty simple, really; deliver on your promises and people are more likely to say positive things about you.
Businesses that are truly on the front foot of building reputation capital - rather than jumping at shadows and waiting for negative comments to whack them on the head - will reap the rewards of the instant communication era.
How does your business or organisation perform in this area? Here are three telling factors:
1. The ability to identify issues quickly.
In the issue I referred to, the client's dissatisfaction isn’t going to dissolve and go away. It’s much more likely to escalate and get taken to a higher level in the organisation. Any time someone's expectations aren’t met, and that someone is important to you and your organisation, your alarm bells should ring.
Savvy organisations have ways to identify budding issues and act on them quickly rather than letting them fester. It’s not rocket science, yet in many cases people sit back and wait while the wick burns brighter and brighter on the escalating issue. Then they're shocked when things blow up!
How do you monitor latent and emerging issues in your business?
2. Making it your business to achieve small wins in addressing issues.
Sometimes even the smallest action can achieve a big win. There are probably 20 emerging issues in your organisation right now. It's likely 19 of them can be resolved in minutes. The person at the other end of the problem will thank you forever and tell all their friends how great you are.
So, what are you waiting for? Rather than hiding behind old-fashioned processes and long turnaround time for responses, roll up your sleeves and quickly overturn situations where peoples’ expectations aren’t being met by your business.
3. Reflecting inward about how you can do it better.
In an age of extraordinary technological advance, is a 10-day turnaround time on an urgent issue acceptable? (they didn’t meet the 10 days, by the way – we’re still waiting!) It may have been OK back then, but I'd suggest it isn't now.
The challenge is, the community operates in Twitter Time. Many organisations - particularly government agencies - are stuck in the mid-80s in terms of organisational response time.
If that’s your organisation, perhaps it’s time to review your practices. You’re not going to revolutionise a large organisation overnight, but what are the small things you can do each day, each week, to make a difference?
If you’re marooned on the other side of the great divide, it’s time to look harder for that bridge. The world has moved on and if you don’t find the way across, you risk being stranded forever.