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Communication in any organization is vital. What you say—and how you say it—is critical. And what a lot of organizations don’t say can be detrimental without them even realizing it. One of the toughest things for any business owner to admit is that you don’t always have an answer. And ever since Covid-19 began, answers are harder to come by than questions. When employees and customers begin to ask tough questions, it often feels like the best option is not to reply, or to wait until you have a better response. Instead of replying, you stay silent “just for now,” you tell yourself. In the meantime, your employees are questioning more things and becoming fearful. Customers start questioning your service and reliability and then they start to go seek your competitors for business.

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What are these tough questions?

Usually, it’s the simple and seemingly obvious questions that are the toughest.

The big question on everyone’s mind is: “When can we start to ease up on COVID protocols?” No one knows, so the answer is silence. Employees are asking if they can continue to work remotely for the next few months, or a year, or forever. But we don’t know the answer yet, so again, we stay silent “for now”. Clients are asking why it takes so long to get an appointment and you’ve been working hard, but you’re also at half capacity due to the pandemic. You may think this is obvious – so you remain silent. Your customers are asking if you’ll ever be able to supply that widget you’ve always had and now never have in stock. Every company in the world has had at least one product out of stock in the past six months, so again, you say nothing because you think the answer is obvious.

We all know that throughout this pandemic, business owners have been challenged like never before. Countless changes have had to be made – and quickly. No one in our lifetime has had to work through a pandemic like Covid-19; frankly, we’re all muddling through it together with different perspectives, different challenges, and differing outcomes. One thing is clear: the businesses that are faring the best are often the ones that are communicating most effectively, both internally and externally. They are communicating clearly about how they’ve had to change direction, change suppliers, and change the way they do business. They’ve been telling their employees and customers directly about the steps they’re taking to improve protocols, ensure safety, change their business model, and/or make changes to the team and how the team works – and the list goes on.

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Whether you’re communicating externally through marketing and PR, or internally to your team, keeping everyone informed about any changes is key.

Good internal communication is crucial for ensuring employee retention.

Internal communication is also crucial for maintaining a strong company culture during these tough times. Simply saying that you appreciate everything your team is doing right now—even if you’re unsure where everything will end up is so much better than saying nothing at all for fear of being wrong. Good external communication is also essential for retaining your regular customers and bringing in new ones. Most business owners are facing the fear of the unknown right now. Consumer habits have changed drastically and are continuing to change. For many of the businesses I work with, the reality of this pandemic continuing through the winter is hitting home, and answers are getting harder to come by. Business owners are staying silent on some critical and simple things without even realizing it. By saying nothing, they pass fear onto others without realizing it and they risk losing their best employees or their best customers as a result.

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External Communication

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So, thinking back to the questions above: What’s the impact of staying silent? When an employee asks if they can work remotely forever because they’re liking the possibility of not having to commute, and you say nothing in response, the employee becomes fearful. When a customer asks why it takes so long to get an appointment because they’ve always been able to get one whenever they want, and you say nothing in response because you don’t know when things can go back to normal, your customer starts to feel like they aren’t important – and they silently look for better service. When a customer asks for that widget you haven’t been able to stock for a long time, because your supplier has been out of stock and you haven’t asked why, your customer begins to look for it elsewhere. This is why, what you don’t say can be detrimental to your company. These three examples of silence can cost your company not only your best staff, but also your best customers.

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When you don’t have answers, or even if you think the answer is obvious, don’t stay silent.

In fact, being candid, honest, and authentic goes so much further.

Admitting you don’t know the answer at this point but will consider every possibility, helps your staff feel less afraid and more willing to stay with you. Even if you think the answer is obvious, rather than getting frustrated by having to answer the same thing over and over or answer what seems obvious – answer anyway. Letting a customer know that you are extremely backed up because of protocols that limit the number of appointments, even if it seems obvious to you, is critical to communicate to your client. Let them know that they are important, and you’ll get to them as quickly as possible. This can be – and is – crucial to keeping their business. Letting a customer know that the supplier has been out of stock, and you are trying to find another source for the widget, will prevent one of your best customers from seeking out other sources. When you don’t know the answer, or when the answer seems obvious, it’s even more important to respond with simple, honest and punctual communication rather than not answering at all. Staying silent can be detrimental to your company without you even realizing. Especially today.