Last week I had the opportunity to give a workshop about customer centricity for a large insurance company. During the discussion, the CEO addressed his team with quite some remarkable words: ‘we are no longer in the insurance business, but we are in the communication business.’ Everyone looked at him with a strange face, but I think he was 100% right.

Communication makes it better or worse

Last week everyone in Belgium was quite shocked with the closing of the Ford factory in Genk. The closing of the plant is a terrible thing to happen, but the (non) communication was even worse. Everyone has serious doubts about a management that decides to fire 10.000 people but does not have the decency to tell those people the news themselves. It made me think back to the BP accident a few years ago. They ruined an ocean with their oil leakage, but they made it worse through the terrible communication by their CEO. Quotes as ‘I want my life back’ and ‘there are other oceans without oil problems’, didn’t help to create empathy for their problems, on the contrary.

Strongest influencer of customer experience is communication

As the direct impact of traditional communication forms is decreasing and the impact of word-of-mouth is increasing, consumer conversations are the biggest influencer of a company’s reputation. Consumers share positive and negative experiences on social media. These experiences are strongly influenced by the communication skills of your client facing employees (and your official communication channels). Every client interaction is a form of communication. Every client interaction can be a conversation starter. Create awareness about this reality within your organization. Modern communication is about employees that act within the philosophy of the organization. The rewards if you succeed are positive conversations.

Please, train your people

Communication is no longer the privilege of a communication department. These days, everyone can communicate on public platforms. I am still surprised with the limited number of companies that train their employees to become better communicators. Most managers agree that communication becomes more important than ever before, but still, it is only a limited group of companies that invests in this new communication.

One of the mistakes managers make, is brief their employees with sentences like ‘treat our customers like you want to be treated yourself’. It’s probably the worst briefing you can give. Everybody has different expectations towards companies and every employee will make his own interpretation of that briefing. A company needs clear and unique values that describe the way employees should treat clients. Of course, the briefing should not balance to the other side where every client interaction becomes programmed and there is no room for personal creativity.

While making your marketing plans for 2013, maybe consider some communication training for all your employees. It will be worth the investment.