Everything we do and say in business communicates something about our company to our customers. Some things are obvious and some things are ever so subtle. Small businesses sometimes mistakenly think that they are exempt from the more formal trappings of business, but that could be a fatal mistake. Here are some tips for communication in business:
What do you do?: The first thing you need to master is the answer to this question.
Here are some responses that will not illicit interest in your business:
1. I am a stay at home mom.
2. I work from home.
3. I am a work at home mom.
4. I have a little business that I do part time out of my home.
5. I stay home with my children and I do (fill in the blank) part time.
When someone asks you this golden question, have a ready well rehearsed response prepared. The response should give people the impression that you are a professional (fill in the blank). Never say you do it part time! Even if you do. Especially if you do! Tell them in a one or two sentence response exactly what you do in a way that piques their interest. This is what I say: I write Christian communication curriculum. I sometimes add that I teach classes from one of the studies that I have written or that I write articles on communication skills for publication. Take some time and come up with something that works for you.
Email is a fast becoming a vital and important method of communicating with our customers. It can be a real blessing because you can dash off an answer to a customer at 2am when you have a spare moment in between baby’s feeding times. You don’t have to go anywhere and you have time to sit and contemplate the best communication to your customer.
While you’re contemplating, think on this: Your customer cannot hear your voice or see your facial expression and they cannot ask any questions for clarification. Be careful that you don’t use language (words) that can be misconstrued. Be careful of making jokes that may be taken the wrong way and put yourself in their shoes before you type. Make sure you are clear. Pretend you don’t know anything about your business and answer as if the customer is from another planet. Nothing says frustration like an email that presupposes that your customer has full knowledge of your business!
Make sure to use good phone etiquette. When you call a customer, give your name and ask for the person you wish to speak with. Be clear, confident and courteous. Most of you know this. However, if you are a woman calling for another woman’s husband, please, please PLEASE tell his wife why you are calling or where you are calling from!–especially if he is not at home. I have received many a phone call from a woman asking to speak with “Rich” and refusing to give me her name or the reason she was calling. If I didn’t know my husband as well as I do, this could cause “Marital Bliss” to become “Divorce Court” fodder.
Please do not let your children answer your business phone unless they are old enough to understand how to properly use a phone and take a message-AND GIVE YOU THE MESSAGE! Many a time I have called a small business only to have the phone answered by their adorable 3 year old who said “Yes, my mommy is home”. And promptly put the phone back down on the receiver. This is not so good for repeat business.
Answering machine messages
This reminds me-unless it suits your particular business, do not have little Johnny leave the message on the answering machine that you use for your business. It just doesn’t communicate that you area professional.
Words you use–jargon
Be careful of the jargon or slang you use when talking to customers. They may not know what a “Phase C Format” is and they don’t want to learn! Just tell them in plain old Standard English so that they may make an informed decision. This is true in your face-to-face communication as well as any written letters or emails.
Get some! Carry them with you! Give them out! This communicates an air of professionalism and that you are prepared to do business. It creates opportunities to do business that you might not otherwise have as well.
Most entrepreneurs understand the need for professional looking business cards, but some small businesses are still corresponding with their customers with plain white paper. It is so easy these days to create even a simple stationary with your business address and perhaps a logo of some sort with your PC.
This one is pretty self explanatory. If you are going to meet with clients or customers, you should be dressed for the occasion. Some business encounters will call for more formal attire and some will be more casual. Make sure that your attire suits the occasion as well as the nature of your business.
Be prepared and on time
This one is for your peace of mind as well as your communication to your customer. If you are running late, you may appear disheveled and you may feel pretty darned disorganized. Make sure you bring everything with you that you need in a neat and orderly package. Do not run in with books falling from everywhere and notes scribbled on little pieces of paper that stick out from all sides of a worn out folder. This communicates to your customer that you don’t respect their time, that you are not really prepared to do business properly with them or that you have too many responsibilities to give your customer the attention he/she requires and deserves.
Keep Your word
If you tell a customer that you will call at 2:30pm, call them at 2:30pm. If you do not yet have the answers you need for them, call them and let them know this. I have had many businesses fail to call me at an appointed time because they didn’t have the information as yet. Not knowing this, I was waiting! This is one of the fastest ways to communicate that your customer is not worth your time!
Customer Service/ Complaints/ Returns
This is one of the hardest parts of business. I worked in customer service for seven years and no two phone calls were exactly alike. The one thing that ties every customer service call together is that the customer is calling because they are not happy campers. Understand that you will not be able to please everybody. Be calm, courteous and listen closely to what they are saying-not only to their words, but to their feelings behind their words (voice and facial expressions if possible). This will help you understand what they are really looking for you to do. You would be amazed at how many phone calls I received where the customer was upset, but really didn’t want me to do anything except listen.
Some customers will have a legitimate complaint: the product was defective; the service wasn’t helpful or didn’t work for them. These customers are merely looking for you to fix what is wrong. Usually you can diffuse these customers and make them satisfied customers by simply apologizing and rectifying. If you can somehow make good on your product or service, then do so. If you cannot, refund their money.
Some customers just have much too high an expectation for your product or service. They want it to do something that it was not designed to do. And some people are just complainers. Watch out for these customers! You will end up bending over backwards for them and they will only become angrier. Give them what you feel is fair or even more than fair. Tell them so. Be prepared for them to go away mad anyway. You can’t please everyone, but if you are more than fair, you might be able to persuade these customers that you did everything you could have done, even though they didn’t get exactly what they wanted.
Small businesses, by their very nature, do not have the financial resources that big businesses do and so it is imperative that they don’t cut corners when it comes to communicating with their customers. We just cannot afford not to communicate effectively!
Handing out business cards:
I have never been good at just giving out my business cards. I feel too pushy. So here’s what I do: I make people ask for them-and here’s how I do it:
1. If I am in line at a grocery store or a bank, I will make a comment that can be overheard by others in line that might spark a conversation. I mention something that I need to buy for the business or something I need to do for it.
2. I may ask someone in line about themselves and then about what they do for a living. They will invariably ask me.
3. I may ask someone for some input on my business. If I see someone who has a teenager, I may ask their opinion on what they feel is important to teach their teen about communication.
4.Sometimes I notice something unique about another person and after talking about what she does, I ask for a business card. Usually she will ask for one of mine as well.
After I have opened up a conversation, if they are interested at all, I can offer them my card. If they mention that they know someone else who might be interested I ask if I can give them two cards.
Every place you go, every phone call you answer can be a potential customer so be careful about your communication and be prepared with cards or answers to common questions that will spark interest in what you do!
JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication and has over 20 years of experience in the field. She is the author of the Say What You Mean series of studies on effective communication skills. If you would like more information on how to effectively communicate in small business, please visit http://www.artofeloquence.com