Poor customer communication

What do you do when you are working with someone who simply is a poor communicator?  It might be someone who speaks in one- or two-word sentences.  Perhaps it’s someone who only gives you half the information you require, assuming that you already know the other half. It could be that they are communicating to you in their second language, and simply don’t possess enough language skills yet.  In some cases, poor communication comes from individuals so intent on using important-sounding buzzwords that they completely baffle the listener. (e.g. “We need to granularize the core alignment of the cloud- driven segmentation…”) Whatever the reason, it can be frustrating when it begins to impact your ability to do your job.

Like Poor Drivers, Poor Communicators Rarely Know Who They Are

Poor communication can come in both verbal and written form, and like poor drivers, poor communicators rarely know how bad they really are. If they are a customer or coworker, of course, you’re not in a position to correct their lack of skills, but you do have to be able to compensate for them.

The best approach is to use clarifying questions that let the person know that they did not make themselves entirely clear.  Be gentle, and don’t make them feel stupid.  For example, if your coworker sends you an email that says, “Pls advise re: customer paperwork,”  don’t just email back with “What on earth are you talking about?”  You’re better to send a message back (or even better – call) that says something like, “Absolutely! Just so I make sure I’m getting you the right information, can you confirm which specific customer and paperwork? Thanks!”

Two cautions.  First, don’t make any assumptions.  Make sure that your understanding is crystal clear before you do anything, and don’t be afraid to ask several more clarifying questions if need be.  The questioning might annoy the other person in the short term, but the next time he (she) comes to you with something, you may find he presents the information more clearly.  Second, don’t be too quick to place all the blame on the other person. Communication, after all, is a two-way street!

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