Communicating with Customers
Effective communication is important not only with other people inside your organisation but with people from the outside as well. No matter what job you hold-manufacturing or marketing, finance or public relations-you may come in contact with customers. And the impression you make tells them a great deal about your organisation. "My first impression of a company is the receptionist," says career counselor John Jarvis. He explains that he often calls a company to obtain information on its products and services to help his students who might want to apply for positions there. "If the receptionist can't explain what the company does, she will always remain a receptionist. But someone who puts the company in a good light will go on and get promotions to more responsible positions."
This is exactly what happened to Barbara. She started as a receptionist, answering the phone at a small insurance company.
"Customers would call with a problem," she said. "I'd try to put myself in their place and be as pleasant as possible, even though some of them were not always very nice. But I knew they needed to talk with one of our insurance representatives, so I'd route them to the right person as quickly as I could." Eventually Barbara completed college and took on more responsibilities. She administered the company's benefits program and wrote its annual report. She was promoted to human resources manager. Today she interviews people seeking employment and conducts orientation programs for new employees. The orientation program enables new hires to learn about the company's benefits and other policies. Barbara also supervises a staff of three people. "Communication," she says, "has always been a major part of my job."
Barbara worked her way up through the organisation because she knew how to deal with customers in her first position as a receptionist. She realised that no company can stay in business unless it knows how to satisfy its customers and treat them properly. The general manager of a hotel once explained that customers get their first impression of his organisation when they telephone for reservations. "If the person on the other end of the telephone isn't courteous," he said, "the customer immediately thinks badly of our entire hotel."
The same thing might be said for many types of service jobs. The teller at a bank, the person standing behind the counter in a fast food restaurant, the cashier at a supermarket-all of them leave a lasting impression on customers. Indeed, they are often the only people who communicate directly with customers.
If you hold one of these positions, you're responsible for what the customer thinks of the company where you work. You also have an impact on whether the customer will return to your company to do business. Remember, you make an impression on customers with not only your words: Body language is also important. A ready smile, direct eye contact, and a firm handshake are communication skills that will win you high marks whenever you deal with customers.
Whether you're interviewing for a job, learning the ropes in a new position, training other employees, or speaking with customers, you need to be a good communicator. Developing confidence in your abilities as an oral communicator takes practice. If you don't prepare for a job interview, for example, you probably won't get hired. Asking the right questions is another essential skill, even if it means exposing your ignorance. It isn't easy, but it's often what you must do to be successful on a job.