In a society that is constantly connected — via email, phone, tablet — you’d think we’d all have perfected our communication skills. But the fact is, we tend to make things much more complicated than they need to be, especially professionally. Communication skills directly impact your ability to do business, which is why it’s critical to communicate clearly to your most important audiences. Bill Gates once said, “I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other.” How can we emulate that quote to more effectively communicate business better?
Start with how you communicate with yourself. The end of the year is a great time to take a step back and really evaluate how you are personally performing and how it is affecting your business. It’s important to be honest and clear with yourself. Consider whether you’ve reached your goals for the year and be honest with yourself if you haven’t.
Ask for feedback from your partners, employees, customers and friends. Encourage them to be honest with you. It can be difficult to hear feedback, but it’s truly the only way you will be able to grow as a business owner. One technique that I use and recommend is writing a letter to yourself to outline and set goals to clearly lay out the path forward. Clearly articulate what you want to accomplish in your business and what you can improve on personally. I find that capturing things in writing make the goal more real, and provides more motivation to achieve them.
Once you’ve identified areas for improvement and have a course of action, it’s important to clearly articulate it to everyone who has a stake in your business — especially your employees. Bringing them into the plan early ensures there is no gray area, wondering or questioning. Everyone will be on the same page and have clear expectations for performance. Making employees a part of the process also gives them a sense of ownership in the success of the business. When Southwest Airlines wanted to redesign its uniforms for the first time in 20 years, the company turned to its employees to drive the process.
Including employees in the process can help them learn and could even inspire new ideas to help your business grow. Additionally, they can help hold you accountable with your goals. A recent study found that 76 percent of people who wrote down their goals, actions and provided weekly progress to a friend successfully achieved their goals. Check in with them frequently to assess how things are going and adjust if more clarity is needed.
Perhaps the most important person you need to communicate with is your customers. They are the backbone of your business and without them you can’t succeed. For them, it’s essential to clearly lay out not only your products and services, but what you can do for them to make their lives easier, more productive and more enjoyable. According to Oracle, 89 percent of customers have switched brand loyalties due to poor customer experience. The experience they have with you is just as important as the actual products you sell.
Brands like Apple and Ikea do a great job of inspiring brand loyalty by constantly asking for feedback. In fact, Ikea visits customer homes to see how they live and uses their products to make improvements. Lululemon and SoulCycle build communities of their customers to gather feedback and help develop ambassadors to help promote their brands. At The UPS Store, we have a community called Small Biz Buzz where our business customers can opt in to take surveys and share feedback that we use to improve our business. For small-business owners, building brand loyalty at this scale can seem unreachable, but there are small things you can do to make a difference.
Involve customers in your self-reflection process and ask for their feedback on your performance. This doesn’t have to be a formal process. Simply striking up a casual conversation with customers can provide a wealth of information. It can give you insight into what they need and provide inspiration for new ideas. Understanding your customers can also open you up to avenues to find new customers. We recently conducted research at The UPS Store that found our potential customers are often unaware of the breadth of services we provide. This finding inspired a brand-new ad campaign, Beyond Shipping, to reach new customers who might not have known all of the services we offer.
Straightforward communication may seem like a simple task, but it’s worthwhile for all of us to examine how we actually communicate. You might find there are improvements to be made that can truly make an impact on the success of your business.