Communication. It’s not just about what you say…

A couple of days ago I was sat in the reception area of my local hospital awaiting an x-ray appointment. Whilst mulling over the things I needed to do later in the day an exchange between the receptionist and an elderly gentleman grabbed my attention. Not only because it was somewhat amusing, but also because it came to highlight something that in marketing and design we remind ourselves of on a daily basis.

That there are two sides to successful communication.

Here’s the general gist of their conversation…

(EG = elderly gentleman / R = receptionist / names and addresses are fictional!)

EG, “I’ve been downstairs at the other x-ray reception and they’ve sent me up here.”

R, “How can I help?”

EG, “I was due to pick up some results having seen my doctor a couple of weeks ago.”

R, “Okay, what’s the name?”

EG, “Jones.”

R, “And the first name?”

EG, “Erm, Robert.”

R, “Mmmm, I can’t find you on our system. What’s the first line of your address?”

EG, “4 Sunderland Road.”

R, “Mmmm, that’s strange. There’s no match on my system. Were you on the system downstairs?”

EG, “Yes, well, I suppose so.”

R, “Have you moved recently? What was your previous address?”

EG, “Erm, crikey, it was a few years ago. 45 Newfound Street.”

R, “This really is strange, I can’t find any details. So, who was the doctor you saw last time?”

EG, “Robert Jones….”

R, “Oh! So you saw Dr Robert Jones?!”

EG, “Yes, I saw him on the 23rd. I had a phone call yesterday to come in today to discuss some results.”

R, “Right then. So what’s your name?”

EG, “Brian Smith.”

R, “Okay then, yes, I have you on the system!…..Apologies about that. And I can see there are some results from a knee x-ray?”

EG, “Yes, that’s right.”

CommunicationThe receptionist dealt with the misunderstanding perfectly. She really was very polite and took responsibility. Although clearly a subtle change in one of her initial questions to “What’s your name?” may well have meant avoiding the confused exchange that followed.

What it showed ever so clearly is that communication isn’t just about what you say. It’s about what the other person hears.

Sounds obvious. And it is. But it’s something that’s quickly forgotten when it comes to marketing and brand messaging.

  • How could your brand promise be interpreted?
  • Is that latest campaign really clear in what’s on offer and the benefits delivered to your target audience?
  • How does your website stack up in terms providing a clear trail of breadcrumbs to the key information that your web visitors might be looking for?
  • Is your signage really as intuitive as you think it is? (Ever got lost coming back from the toilet to a meeting room in a hotel? I know I have!)
  • Are your sales team consistent in delivering a pitch that hits the right notes and is sensitive to the individual audience each time?
  • Does your customer care team ask clear questions that aren’t open to interpretation? And are they skilled in how to respond in conversation to get to the swiftest, most satisfactory conclusion for your customers?
  • …the list goes on!

So, not only is it important to be clear in what you communicate. It’s equally important to review and understand how what you are communicating could be interpreted – at every level.