Why do Barriers make a difference?
We have recently come back from a short holiday in Italy. When we arrived at the hotel there was an issue with our room. The view was of a building site rather than the sea! I went to reception and there were 3 people standing behind a very large counter area. It was very daunting.
There was a big BARRIER between us.
Following some very poor Italian from me (I still haven’t worked out the exact translation for being incredibly underwhelmed) the upshot was that I eventually broke down the barrier by asking if we could have a quiet word at the side, got my point across, and they changed our room.
This got me to thinking about barriers to good communication, both physical and metaphorical, and how these can have an adverse effect on client provider relationships.
In this blog I discuss 4 Barriers that I come across on a regular basis and what we can do to overcome them:
1 The Counter Barrier
This is as described in my recent hotel experience above, and as you may have come across in many forms of retail outlets and reception areas of larger businesses. I have found that the people behind the counter can often use this Barrier as a way of trying to express their position of advantage in the particular situation.
For the provider of the service it is important to train your people to NOT exude this image of superiority, and to imagine it is themselves the other side of the counter, and to treat the customer the way they would like to be treated themselves.
For the customer if you have a real problem it is always a good idea to try and remove the barrier and ask if you can have a quiet word at the side away from the counter. It is amazing how effective this can be, as discussed above in my recent Italian hotel experience.
2 The Phone Barrier
This is a great one. If you are the customer at the end of a phone line you feel incredibly vulnerable to the person at the other end of the line. It is a fantastic medium to either build or destroy trust in the organisation you are seeking to deal with. Unfortunately it is normally the latter.
For the provider of the service what a great opportunity this is to build a reputation for top quality customer service. Train your people to empathise with the customer, to listen to their needs and to take responsibility for the action that is needed.
For the customer unfortunately you have to hope you are dealing with one of the good guys. If not, and if you experience poor quality service, vote with your feet and switch providers.
3 The Desk Barrier
The desk is used as a great Barrier internally in organisations to create a feeling of superiority for the owner of the desk over the person sitting the other side. It can also be used as a similar type of Barrier by providers of services from Estate Agents to Solicitors when dealing with their clients.
For the provider of the service, get out from behind the desk (even if it is to sit at the side) to break down the Barrier.
For the customer, if the person behind the desk is not budging, try getting up and walking around to subconsciously lower or remove the Barrier.
4 The Gatekeeper Barrier
So called ‘Gatekeepers’ do a great job – for most of the time. However in my experience there is often a tendency to overdo this role, and potentially cause further frustration to already unhappy customers.
For example – ‘Can I speak to your boss please (as I’m not happy with what you are telling me)’?
‘No, there is no one available at the moment, and in any case they will only tell you the same thing’.
This is always very annoying!
For the provider of the service it is a case of understanding when things are getting out of control with a customer, and the boss or person next in line being prepared to take over the situation and to de-escalate the situation.
If these situations are not dealt with effectively, the customer is lost forever.
For the customer, if you aren’t happy, vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere.
These are just 4 of the most common barriers to better communication and great customer service. There are many others including closed doors, offices on the top floor, email waffle that doesn’t answer the question, uniforms etc. etc.
The trick is to always be aware of these metaphorical and physical barriers, and move them to the side or break them down completely for the best communication.
If you have any comments on this article or would like to discuss any aspect of it please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0845 689 8750.
John Thompson is Managing Director and founder of Trans Capital Associates
Image by: Smow Blog