If you’re a professional communicator of any kind (perhaps Internal Communications and Social Media especially) you will want to directly solicit feedback and responses to your articles, announcements and news. Even if you don’t have feedback mechanisms in place (shame on you), your audience will still send criticism, observations and ideas your way.
So how do you demonstrate that you’re really listening? How do you show you care, even if you think their ideas stink?
Show you care
The first way to show you care (regardless of if you give a damn) is to provide obvious feedback mechanisms, and actively encourage people to use them. It’s a poor cop out to just end an Organisation Announcement with ‘please speak to your Line Manager if you have any queries‘.
To prove you care, you’ve got to respond swiftly and directly to all received feedback, and you’ve got to follow up with any developments from when you take their query higher up into your organsation.
If you get an complaint via email about something, try calling that person to clarify what’s really bothering them. Once they’ve chewed your ear for five or six minutes they will truly feel that ‘the business’ is listening to them. Once you fully understand what’s got them all het up, see who you can speak to about the problem and see if there are any solutions out there already. If there aren’t, talk to an executive and see if they feel it’s worth addressing.
Why not get that exec to reply via email to the complainant? Why not publish the original complaint (edited for conciseness and clarity) and the answer on your intranet so that everyone can learn, and so everyone can see that your Management Board are listening.
Be sure to let people know if their queries will be published, or dealt with directly.
The second way to show you care is how you deal with people in general. You don’t need to be in the Internal Communications department to have to deal with people’s feedback. If you do anything that affects other people, be they clients, internal customers, colleagues or the ‘general public’, you’ll get feedback (and to create a decent relationship with your customers, you should encourage it).
Do you run your business or project from a blog? Then tend to the comments section. Those people who leave a comment are to be cherished. Even criticism is acceptable because it shows a level of engagement, of involvement, that you need to be successful.
Don’t argue with the people who leave you comments; you’ve had your say (the blog post) let others have theirs – social media is about the conversation and the relationship right? Not about you broadcasting to the masses.
Do you get a load of emails from people who want stuff from you? They want to know the address of your product page (sigh, it’s right there on the front page, you think). They want to know if you’ll update your latest blog post to include a link to them (sigh, why didn’t they just leave a comment?). They want to ask if they can ‘use’ your work for their art / business / website / assignment (sigh, that’s what your copyright statement is for). Whatever people want from you, what they also want is a little touch with humanity – they recognize that behind your business there’s a person, and they’re asking to connect to that person.
So, take a little time to craft your response. If you simply provide the information (a link, an yes / no, a thank you) you’ll be addressing their need but not addressing them as a person, and they need that as well. Yes, they’d like a little piece of you, but here’s the secret: you can write a lovely reply and offer warmth and humanity without actually feeling warm or caring about them.
You don’t have time to write more than five.sentenc.es I know, and that’s fine, but while providing the answer / information that satisfies their request, weave in a little humanity to satisfy their craving for contact.
Smile while you type
Say hello to them, and thank them for contacting you; it is, after all, great that they care about your business / read your articles.
Reflect a little of what they said back to them. So if they complained about a broken link, or explained that their dog was sick, say how you totally understand how frustrating that might have been for them. Reflecting back the very same subject they mentioned demonstrates that you read their mail.
Provide the information, or your decision. Don’t over-justify your decision. I have learned that if I explain why I won’t link to a young webmaster’s crappy website, they will hate me and / or send several more emails my way explaining why my reasoning is wrong. I now simply decline their invitation to link to them and explain that it’s not my policy to link to sites of that subject. I am clear, honest, but not overly detailed.
Say you hope that this info helps / that they’re not too disappointed and then end the email by asking them to sign up to your Newsletter / RSS Newsfeed, or ask them to leave a comment on a specific recent blog post of yours. Basically, you’re ending the email on a high note and asking to ‘keep in touch’.
Remember, I’m not expecting you to actually care about every person that takes 0.5 seconds to say ‘hi’ on Facebook, I’m saying that you can demonstrate interest, respect and warmth even if in your cold dark heart you don’t feel so fuzzy.
Do you care about everyone? Shouldn’t you at least demonstrate your goodwill towards people who are engaged with you? Don’t flame me, but even if you do, I’ll show you that I listened and that my black frigid heart warmed to you.