What does good business communication look like? What attributes render a piece of communication ‘good’?
If you were to ask different people to define effective communication, you might end up getting as many different responses – from the nuances of face-to-face spoken communication to writing skills, and even body language. They’d be partly right, but you’d still be missing the big picture.
Take the lesson below to see the big picture, and learn how you can shine in it. Also, remember to take the quiz at the end of the lesson too.
This lesson is in video format.
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What does good business communication look like? What attributes render a communication ‘good’?
Let’s examine a communication example that won the hearts of people who chanced upon them.
Shutterfly, an American Internet-based image publishing service, made a simple, yet terrible mistake when a congratulatory ‘new baby’ promotion went out to all their e-mail subscribers, not just new parents.
Shutterfly promptly responded to this error by sending a message to their email subscribers in the following format:
Please accept our most sincere apologies. We mistakenly sent an email that was intended only for new parents who recently made baby-related purchases at Shutterfly. We’re truly sorry if you received this email in error. We realize this is a very sensitive issue and we did not mean to upset you in any way.
We care about our customers above all else and have taken measures to ensure this will not happen again. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you.
Chief Marketing Officer
Gauging from the response Shutterfly received from their customers, it became immediately clear that all was forgiven. The service recovery campaign was an out-and-out success. The social network loved it.
Seriously? That simple draft? What was so great about that message?
We’ll return to that story in a bit. Firstly, it must be noted that Effective Communication encompasses a rather wide spectrum of applications. The email example you just explored is but a small element of this wide spectrum. What we’re getting at is this – Most good professionals invest a lot of time and effort refining and perfecting four basic skills into an art form i.e. listening, reading, writing, and talking. Communication experts refer to these four transferable skills collectively as effective communication skills. It must also be noted that there is no one effective communication style or medium. That’s why good communicators learn to adjust their communication style in response to the many variables they face at a given time.
If you were to ask different people to define effective communication, you might end up getting as many different responses. Some might talk to you about the nuances of face-to-face spoken communication, while others may direct your focus to writing skills, and yet others might talk to you about the secrets of body language. They’re partly right, but they’re missing the big picture. The whole truth is that effective communication is guided by very tangible, objective principles that cut across communication mediums and styles.
To figure out what these principles are, let’s go back to Shutterfly’s email message and look at what they got right in it.
1. The message was structured to meet a specific objective:
Shutterfly realised the only prudent thing to do, given the gaffe it had on its hands, was to apologise unconditionally. And the message drives that point home right at the start, in a way that is impossible to overlook or miss. They also knew their customers well.
Shutterfly’s customer base is heavily skewed towards women. Given the nature of the error, they sensed that their women customers would take exception to content in the rogue email. So, they responded, as opposed to letting it just blow over, and they responded with sincere empathy, as opposed to a just general recall message.
2. The message was clear, complete and concise:
Shutterfly needed to tender their apology in a straight, honest, and joke-free manner, and that’s exactly what they did. Their apology email said what it needed to- no more, no less. Note that doing anything else here, like waffling or being too verbose, would have come across as being disingenuous, and would have given the impression that Shutterfly didn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation – or worse – were making light of a serious mistake. And lastly, they left the forum open for questions, and supplied information on how customers could get in touch with them.
3. Shutterfly’s message was sensitive:
There’s no humor in Shutterfly’s message at all, a brand otherwise known for being quippy and light on their feet. Because Shutterfly sensed they had hurt some people’s feelings in an unintentional, yet intense way, humour would be in poor taste. After all, that sensitive email had gone out to people who might have suffered from fertility issues or may have recently had miscarriages. Remember, their customer base is predominantly women. Shutterfly didn’t try to downplay or distract from the mistake; they just delivered an honest and clearly communicated sorry, and a pledge to do better next time.
4. The message maintained communication etiquette and protocol:
What do you think would have happened, if Shutterfly’s message, in that short draft, had spelling mistakes, punctuation errors and incorrect sentence structure. Correct – the note would have fallen on its face so bad, Shutterfly would have wished they hadn’t sent anything at all. Effective messages are well curated and crafted. Period.
Incidentally, those four things that Shutterfly got right with their message coincide perfectly with the four principles that communication experts profess in the interest of effective business communication, namely:
o Principle 1: Effective communication is structured to meet its desired objective
o Principle 2: Effective communication follows the 3 C’s (Clarity, Completeness, Conciseness)
o Principle 3: Sensitivity in one’s communication is key to it being received positively
o Principle 4: Effective Communication maintains communication protocol/ etiquette
And as we pointed out earlier, these principles apply across communication mediums, whether it be face-to-face communication or written emails.
In this lesson, we’ve enumerated the concepts on which effective communication is based. In the next lesson, we offer some practical advice on what you could do to imbibe these principles into your own communication style.
For now, please take the quiz below to proceed.