It’s more important now than ever to improve your communication skills with customers. Your customer communication strategy, corporate or personal, must include being intentional about improving communication.

I recently opened service tickets with two vendors asking how to accomplish a task with their products. One is a VOIP softphone, and the other a web-based marketing tool. The products are totally different, but the customer service was nearly identical. In both cases, they emailed back quickly and politely with solutions, but the solutions were incomplete. I had to dig around inside their products to find the settings they mentioned.

I’m a geek, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to nose around inside and figure out the settings. The problem is that many people are not geeks and need customer communication to provide explicit steps. These two vendors provided accurate but incomplete information.

Effective communication anticipates the needs of the customer. Customer interactions require you to use empathy to put yourself in the customer’s position.

The Gricean Maxims of cooperative conversation provide 4 simple ways to improve communication skills with customers:

The Maxim of Quality. Always speak truth. Never say that for which you lack adequate evidence. In customer interactions dealing with your products or services, make sure that whatever you say is accurate and evidence-based.

Both of these vendors provided accurate information. No problem there.

The Maxim of Quantity. Provide as much information as needed. Then stop. Thinking of this maxim, at one extreme you provide only sparse information, not enough to accomplish the task. At the opposite extreme, you provide the solution along with unnecessary background and related processes.

Both vendors failed to provide complete information. They needed to go deeper. I was left to figure out part of the solution on my own. Both vendors need to work on this to improve their customer communication skills.

The Maxim of Relevance. This is simple. Stay on topic. Conversations tend to bounce from topic to topic. That’s normal in casual conversation, but it can be maddening in business. It is especially maddening in an IT support session. Your frustrated end-user is simply trying to get back to work.

Vendors who attempt to upsell products during a tech support exchange are guilty of violating this maxim. Both vendors in my example stayed focused.

The Maxim of Manner. Avoid unnecessarily complex words and phrases. Avoid jargon. Keep it simple. One of the most common complaints about IT customer support concerns the use of jargon. You know how frustrating it is when your doctor starts using obscure medical terminology.

Both of these vendors used plain language which I easily understood. (If you’ve seen the Retro Encabulator video you know what I’m talking about. If not, you can watch it here. It’s a classic example of how you sound when you start using jargon.)

Communication and The Customer Journey

Their journey includes frustrations with products and services that don’t work intuitively. Your job, as an IT pro, is to support your customer or coworkers with your knowledge and skills.

They range from people with high levels of technical competence to those with no technical skills. A person’s tech ability is not a measure of their worth. Your job is to support them without being judgmental or condescending. There will be times when their lack of technical understanding may frustrate you. Maybe that’s how a physician feels when she tells a patient to change their diet, lose weight, and quit smoking, but a year later, they’re still eating junk food, overweight, and smoking.

Of course, you’re accustomed to working with complex systems. Most of your customers are not. They’re also easily intimidated by complexity and obscure commands.

Think about times when you’ve had a great customer experience. Your customer satisfaction was based on the provider delivering accurate information (Maxim #1), enough information for you to do what you needed (Maxim #2), while not overwhelming you with irrelevant details (Maxim #3), and using language you could understand (Maxim #4).

To create a great customer experience, whether for your customers or coworkers, use empathy to put yourself in the customer’s position. What would you want if you were them? Engage customers by adjusting your communication style to meet their needs. Use active listening to go deeper, make sure your response times are reasonable, and use the Gricean Maxims to elevate your customer communication skills.

That’s what leads to customer satisfaction and positive customer feedback!

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