You will have to...
“You will have to call your insurance company and get the PO Box before I can help you.” My hackles went up. I am not a fan of “you will have to” when I know I am going to be dropping a small fortune for the privilege to do business with a provider. It wasn’t only the words, but the tone in her voice that set off my internal seething. Maybe it was because the first five words of that sentence are on one of my course worksheets of “what not to say to your customers”. The question I get in almost every course on basic communication starts with “can you really teach interpersonal communication skills?” followed quickly by “aren’t these skills just common sense?”
Yes- people can learn interpersonal communication skills. Yes- these skills need to be taught. Yes- for some these skills are “common sense” and for others, there is nothing common about them. Go ahead and blame parents, the media, tv shows and cartoons that celebrate disrespectful dialogue between kids and adults, and/or our informal society that allows authors to spew cutting language all the while hidden on social media. So yes, as an organization you may need to spend time training interpersonal communication skills such as the aspects of respectful workplace dialogue, how to effectively communicate through conflict, how to answer the phone, making sure to add the please and thank you, as well as choosing words that help and honor your customers- both internal and external. Yes, you may even have to train on tone of voice and the power of non-verbal communication. It will be worth it.
There is a process to all of this that starts before any training and will help your planning flow better. First, write down what is giving you heartburn about the communication in your organization. Is it too informal or are there too many complaints? Quantify what you can and get specific on what you want to see as a change.
Next, you may have to do some data gathering to really nail down the root cause. Do your employees know what “awesome communication skills” looks like? Can you articulate what you want to see and hear from them?
Then, look at the tools your employees are using to do their job. Are they trying to communicate with phones that keep cutting out or receivers that are difficult to hear through? Are they in a noisy environment or one where the lighting is poor so they misread information?
What about the incentives to do well? Are they held accountable for providing good service and using good communication skills? Do they know the difference between good and bad communication? Do they have the desire to make changes necessary to provide good communication?
These questions need to be explored before any training is provided. You may find by working on the answers to these questions, training time is actually very little. If anything, training may include expectations of good interpersonal communication skills as well as some examples of those expectations in action.
Take time with this process and map out your expectations thoroughly. Then share these expectations with your team and, if necessary, teach your team how to meet these expectations. Your customers will thank you for it!