How to Communicate Effectively

By Kentin Waits on 9 December 2011 (Updated 21 December 2011) 0 comments
Photo: pixdeluxe

In a world filled with so many ways to communicate, offering too much communication is easy. Email, voicemail, text, IM, cell-phones, laptops, and tablets all conspire to make communication instantaneous, 24-hour, and multi-media. But what gets lost in translation? How do we know when to communicate, what to communicate, and how often? Whether you’re messaging employees or customers, there’s a fine line between saying too little and saying too much.

Whether you're touching base with employees or reaching out to customers, here are some tips to make sure you’re being heard and not tuned out.

Communicating with Employees

Be Precise

In any communication challenge, precision wins every time. Filtering your message down to just the facts and stating those facts clearly, with brevity, and without room for interpretation is where the magic lays. To get there, ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the core of my message?
  • What do all my employees need to know about it?
  • Is there a timing factor I need to communicate?
  • When can they expect more information?
  • Where should I lead them for more detailed information?
  • Am I prepared for questions?

Don’t Sugar-Coat It

We’re all called upon to deliver bad news from time to time. Employees respond best when they know the facts and understand the specific challenges the facts present. Trying to temper the negative only sends a mixed signal that dilutes your message and will eventually require more communication to clarify.

That’s not to say employers can’t be positive or upbeat about the future even while delivering negative news. Use optimism to motivate your listeners through clearly-defined tough periods rather than muddying a negative message with a false spin.

Anticipate and Invite Questions

All good communication invites questions and follow-up. The key is to be ready for questions without losing your audience by presenting and answering every possible FAQ. Let your listeners or readers follow-up one-by-one or department-by-department with questions that are relevant to them. Fielding a laundry list of general questions only wastes everyone’s time and allows your audience to disengage.

Provide Resources for More Information

Not all of your employees are concerned about the same things. Sales wants to know about new product launches, HR wants to know whether to staff up or stay lean, customer service is concerned about catalog release dates, etc. Avoid hitting your audience with details they don’t need to know. Present only the information that is universally needed and then provide resources for each team or individual to get more specifics.

Communicating with Customers

Know Your Audience

A large technology firm I worked with recently spent nearly half of their marketing budget researching the correct “developer tone” to announce the launch of a new service. The company realized that developers and the extremely tech-savvy would be the early-adopters. Hitting the right tone involved writing copy in the correct casual voice, matching the developers’ verbal shorthand or lingo, and communicating key pieces of information with just enough detail.

In the end, the campaign was a success because the very distinct audience was understood, respected, and targeted correctly. For smaller companies that may be operating on a shoestring marketing budget, assess your own “voice” to see if matches your real-world customers.

Match the Message to the Media

The booming growth in ways to communicate hasn’t been matched with training on how to leverage the right tool for the right message. Email marketing is best for longer lifecycle messaging, specific campaigns, or ongoing newsletter distribution. Facebook fan pages work well for building buzz, growing a loyal fan base, or hosting surveys. Whatever the goal of your message, distribute content that’s not only relevant to your customers—but also appropriate to the medium.

Keep It Brief

We know customers have notoriously brief attention spans. Today more than ever, customers are inundated with marketing messages and their filters are rightfully set to “high.” Cut through the clutter by tailoring your message to answer the three questions customers are most concerned with:

  • What is the offer?
  • Why should I care?
  • What sets your service apart from the competition?

By following this formula, you’ll provide just the right level of information to get your customers’ attention without losing them in superfluous copy. If more information is necessary, provide a link or source where customers can go for further details.

Time It Right

When contacting your customers via an email campaign, timing can make all the difference in the world. Getting your message noticed in the first place means needing to communicate less frequently. Although there’s no hard and fast rule for frequency, monitor your conversion and unsubscribe rates immediately after deployment to see what’s giving you the best results. The same holds true for what time of day you contact your opt-in customers.

New technology allows some email service providers to deploy messages to individual addresses on your list based upon that user’s previous open/click activity. If this level of sophistication isn’t available to you, divide your distribution list based upon broader time ranges of your openers/clickers. Launch separate campaigns to those who opened previous emails between 6am and 9am EST, or 1pm and 4pm EST, for instance.

Clarify Your Call to Action

Some companies still struggle with the right call to action online. Users click to buy a product and are presented with more product information, asked to update their profiles, or led in a different direction altogether.

Don’t forget that your online user experience should be driven by clear communication delivered consistently and simply. Lead customers through the process of learning and buying online by focusing on the words you use and the paths you take them down. Segment users based on actions (register, learn more, and contact customer service). For your buyers, the goal should always be to reduce the number of clicks.

For individuals and companies that have mastered effective communication strategies, the tools available represent limitless opportunities. Employees and customers are aware, tuned in, and talking with each other now more than ever. The smartest companies have traded in the bullhorn for more tailored and targeted tools that reach the right audience at the right time in the right way.

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