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Karen Martin and Beverley Ireland-Symonds promote the value of having effective communication skills for individuals, teams and organisations.
Tuesday, 8 March 2011

5 Reasons why you should state the obvious for your customers

Photo by Yuri Arcus
Why is it that so many organisations think that certain things should be perfectly obvious to their customers  and there is no need for them to explain? It’s no secret that the most successful companies genuinely put customer service at the heart of everything they do and will constantly review and update their policies, procedures and staff  training to ensure this is always the case.  Too many organisations are either not bothered or are clueless about the potential impact of their disinterest on their customers.

I was recently sent a database from a company I was working with, which included names, email addresses, company address, etc.  I looked briefly at this information with a member of the company and everything seemed in order.  When I reopened the file later on I was surprised to find that I didn’t have any telephone numbers.  This was really annoying and I spent the weekend trying to track down some of the numbers.  When I phoned the company at the first opportunity on Monday morning,  my question was “Should I have received any telephone numbers?”.  The member of staff sounded incredulous and  I was told I had indeed received them. “But I can’t see them I said” – “You just need to expand column L” came the reply.  Gritting my teeth I explained that I had expanded column L already, but there  weren’t any telephone numbers.  It turns out that column L marked “Customer Data 1” – was the telephone number with the first 0 missing.Grr!!

There were four main issues that arose from this encounter.
  • Poor instructions:  I didn’t know that customer data 1 referred to telephone numbers.  (I had not been told this when he told me about the spreadsheet.) The member of staff's response to my apparent ignorance  when I said I thought it was a customer number to distinguish individual customers was to tell me that no other customer had ever thought that.

  • The importance of context: I had never seen a telephone with the 0 missing unless it had been replaced with an overseas code (which these hadn’t).  I’m a trained teacher and have never said that you may see telephone numbers with the 0 missing.  This time I was told “It’s the way the system does it.”  There was no inclination on the member of staff to try and understand the context of me as a customer.

  • No recognition or acknowledgement to review practices: Even though I tried to explain quite politely that he might want to review his practice for the future, it was quite clear that he wasn’t going t do this.  From an unscientific straw poll that I took from some friends who work in different professions not one of them when presented with a set of similar set of information thought they were the telephone numbers.

  • No responsibility/No apology :  Perhaps I should have realised that the numbers were telephone numbers, but the fact is, as the customer, I expected an apology from the company and not to receive one is poor customer service.  I wasted a lot of my valuable time looking up telephone numbers.

  • Assumptions were made: The company member of staff had assumed that I would understand their systems without explanation.  Why?  Why would I? Once again this is just poor customer service.  It might have been obvious to him that Column L was full of telephone numbers, but it wasn’t to me.

So here are 5 reasons why you  should state the ‘obvious’
  1. Customers don’t have an understanding of your company systems and processes.
  2. Customers operate in their own context which directly impacts on how they ‘see the world’ including your services and products.
  3. Disenchanted customers will not return if they have to waste time and money finding things out
  4. You have no idea of the level of the communication skills of your customers. You can’t make assumptions and therefore it’s better to state the obvious.
  5. Good customer service, including clear instructions will increase sales.

It’s obvious isn’t it!.


Photograph by Yuri Arcus