02. The Importance of Proactive Communication

A stitch in time saves nine

– Old English Proverb


It was Monday morning. Anand, the manager of a branch, had committed to Lalit, the Head of the organisation’s Admin team that he would send across the data on the year’s monthly branch electricity consumption details, by the end of the week. The admin team had said that they required this data for an internal report that they needed to send to the CEO on various cost heads.

However, it had been a really hectic week for Anand, with multiple emergencies that he had to deal with, a couple of them in far-flung offices of the organisation. On Saturday morning, Anand received a call from Lalit. “Buddy, you did not keep to your promise of sending me the data” Lalit spoke. Anand, perhaps tired by the week’s exertions, snapped back at Lalit. “Yes, gather data for you; that is all that I was sitting around this place for, right? I have been slogging all week fighting fires. I have no time to go around looking for data.”

“Listen Anand”, Lalit replied. “I can understand that you have been busy. And, I would have been perfectly fine if you had informed me that you did not have the time to follow through on my request. All you had to do was to be proactive and inform me of your inability to keep to your commitments. And you had made a commitment to me, hadn’t you? People, who cannot be trusted to keep to their commitments, and worse still, are not proactive in informing customers about expected delays, are viewed in a very poor light. You do realise that, right?”

Proactiveness, it is one of the constituents of ‘Complete Customer Delight’ one of RCF’s pillars of customer centricity. It is also one of the key behaviours, as per RCF’s competency framework, that managers are expected to practice. This is mentioned under ‘Managerial Communication’ in the Competency Framework.

What is proactiveness, though?

Well, proactiveness is about taking initiative. It is about seeing things from your customer’s perspective and informing them about all matters that concern them, ahead of time, so that the customer can take the steps required to ensure that his needs are best met. It is also taking the necessary action before someone feels the need to follow up with you.

For example, if you have committed to a timeline, but if for any reason you expect a delay in meeting that deadline, it is poor customer service to not proactively call and inform the customer about the expected delay. If the customer has to take the trouble to call and check on the status of the task, or has to come to the branch or to your desk to do so, it indicates that you are not being proactive enough.

Proactiveness is also, and especially, required to be displayed in one’s dealings with one’s team members. For example, if you foresee that your team members would be required to sit back late on a particular date, the right thing to do would be to proactively inform them in advance, so that they can plan and prepare for this. Do not spring a surprise upon them by informing them at the eleventh hour that they are expected to put in additional hours at work.

Simply saying that “the team members should have known” or “if it needs to be done, then it needs to be done” is poor manager behaviour, and is the complete opposite of the proactive work ethic.

Proactiveness requires that you inform the customer about the delay, before he has to contact you. This call has to be made as early as is possible so that the customer can make alternative arrangements to have his need met. For example, if you expect a delay in having some reimbursement vouchers that your team member has submitted to be processed, then the right thing to do would be to proactively inform the team member about this. Do not wait for the team member to ask you about this. This is the right manager behaviour to expect.

Now, proactiveness is a lot more than simply providing information about change in timeliness. It is also about providing all information in advance, and even before the customer asks for it, such that the customer can take all necessary action and save himself some time.

For example, imagine that a customer was expected to provide you with some documentation to complete a certain transaction, but that the document is not required immediately, but at a later date. The right thing to do would be to inform the customer in advance to keep such a document ready. Do not wait till the eleventh hour to inform the customer that such a document is required. The customer might not have it ready at that moment that it is required, leading to the delay in the transaction being completed. It would be tempting, in such a situation, to absolve oneself of any blame for the delay. After all, the customer could not provide you the documents in time. However, one could have pre-empted this delay by proactively informing the customer about the requirement for the documents. This failure to be proactive, in fact, could thus be said to be the cause of the delay, and not any lapse on the part of the customer.

Bottom line: Be proactive in informing your external or your internal customers, and that includes your team members, about any matter that concerns them.