In March 1977, two passenger jets collided on the runway of the Los Rodeos Airport in Tenerife, a Spanish island. After the pilot of one plane mistakenly believed they’d been given clearance to take off, the plane slammed into another airliner waiting to turn off the runway.
While heavy fog and a congested airport contributed to the crash, the main factor was one that could have been avoided altogether—a lack of communication.
Miscommunications, misunderstandings, and a complete lack of communication entirely has led to many mistakes for many people over the years. Although most of them don’t end quite as catastrophically as the events in Tenerife, not communicating properly has caused major losses for businesses of all sizes.
In fact, poor communication could cost businesses $37 billion dollars1—and another $62.4M a year in lost productivity.
What can you do to improve communications with your team, customers, and business partners? In this post, we’ll look at:
And 3 ways to fix communication gaps:
- Put the right systems and tools in place
- Find where communication is breaking down
- Hire teammates with strong communication skills
🔍 Are you thinking about purchasing a new communication tool and unsure how to get started? Here’s a checklist to help you pick the right one for your business.
Why is a lack of communication “bad” anyway?
Many people assume that communication comes naturally in the business world. If you’re sending marketing emails, picking up the phone, or sending someone messages, you’re communicating—there isn’t much more to it, right?
But just having the means to communicate doesn’t automatically make for effective teamwork. A lack of communication can still occur if everyone isn’t sharing team knowledge regularly or aware of the best ways to talk to teammates or customers.
When your communications infrastructure isn’t working properly—whether that’s because it’s outdated, like an old phone system that can’t support text messaging or out-of-office workers, or because your team doesn’t know how to effectively use the systems they’ve been given—mistakes happen, people become frustrated, and your team has to spend more time fixing the new problems that pop up.
In the end, people are less productive and less happy. Depending on the size of the mistakes that are happening due to your lack of communication, you’re probably also wasting time, resources, and money.
3 ways to fix a lack of communication
To solve your communication problems, you need to get to the root of why they’re happening in the first place. Does your team not have the systems, tools, and processes they need to effectively communicate with team members and clients, or are they not trained in how to communicate properly? Do your team members simply not have the characteristics you’d find in an effective team?
1. Put the right systems and tools in place.
One of the biggest reasons why communication is lacking within an organization is because team members don’t have the right tools or a collaboration hub to efficiently talk with each other or clients. Your team may be trying their best to communicate, but if they’re struggling with outdated technology or clumsy processes, communication can only be so strong.
Obviously, that means that having multiple communication tools that allow your team to communicate with each other and customers in multiple ways is good… right?
Well, not exactly. Yes, different conversations sometimes require different channels, so having the option to video call, message, or just hop on the phone can help team members resolve challenges quickly. However!
If you’re spending time bouncing between different tools, you could be wasting time, losing track of past conversations, or even forgetting to check in where someone might be trying to get in touch. Having too many tools can create entirely new communication problems.
An all-in-one communication platform, like the RingCentral app, offers you the flexibility of communicating in the most efficient way possible without overwhelming your inbox:
If you have a customer support team, RingCentral’s Collaborative Contact Center allows you to communicate with other agents through video conferencing software, instant messaging, phone calls, and more. Internally, you can collaborate between teams and departments to give teams the feedback and instruction they need to work efficiently.
Externally, you can also use RingCentral to keep track of customer conversations and questions to determine how well you’re addressing those concerns. Integrate business SMS, email, social media, and chat conversations all in one place to help with customer service teamwork.
2. Find where communication is breaking down.
Communication breakdown happens in a number of ways. Employees might not know which tasks they should be focusing on, customer service reps might struggle to articulately answer customer questions, or misunderstood instructions might pass through an entire department like a game of telephone.
While each of these problems might result in a lack of communication, the approach you take to fixing each one will be different. Your first step is determining where your team is struggling to communicate so you can appropriately fill in any gaps.
Whether you’re dealing with issues inside your company or handling customer-facing communication challenges, discovering the holes in your current communication processes comes down to two things: interviewing and observing.
Talk with your team members to see where they see communication problems within departments or processes. What are you currently doing that isn’t working? What areas can you improve on? How would your team prefer to communicate with their team members?
Get a feel for what your team expects out of communication. Identify the areas they’re struggling to connect and what they would like to see fill those gaps.
If you’re seeing challenges with customer collaboration and communication, do the same thing with your customers. Ask where they believe their questions are going unanswered, and what changes they’d like to see in your communication process. Would they prefer calling you over sending you a message on your website? (If so, you should have an inbound calling strategy.)
Maybe they’d rather connect through social media instead of email. Are you hitting these customer expectations?
Getting a feel for what your audiences—both internal and external—expect out of communication can give you a great start. However, it isn’t going to show you all of the communication challenges your company is facing. To discover the problems that might be slipping under the radar, you need to turn to analytics and process monitoring.
Build a more effective, digitally focused customer service strategy.
See where customers might be reaching out and going unanswered. For example, are you getting messages on social media but not following up? (More on social media best practices here.)
Are customers sending emails to a support inbox and not getting a response back, or are they receiving canned customer support emails that don’t answer their questions? That’s not good for your customer retention rate.
3. Hire team members with strong communication skills.
Identifying gaps in your process and equipping your team with the right tools can help improve communication immensely, but if your team doesn’t have strong skills (or a willingness to learn), you’ll probably still struggle with communication issues.
When hiring new team members, communication ability should be something you always look out for—especially when hiring for a customer-facing role. It’s a key customer service skill, after all.
Pay close attention to how a potential employee communicates through the job process (this is important for your employee retention strategy later on too), but look beyond just their ability to craft a well-written email. Make sure they follow instructions, observe how they listen to problems or challenges, and how they relay solutions to those issues.
Behavioral questions, such as asking them to walk you through a scenario or role-playing interview questions, can help you weed out candidates who may not have the communication skills you need within your company.
For existing team members, offer regular communication skills training. For example, have customer service reps practice empathy exercises with each other.
By prioritizing communication skills early on (as well as treating it as a skill to continuously develop) you can avoid bad habits from developing within your team.
Make lack of communication a thing of the past
Most of the time, people don’t realize that they’re communicating poorly. They think they’re getting the point across and only discover the problem after it’s too late.
As long as communication isn’t a priority within your company, these problems will continue to happen. To truly fix a lack of communication, you need to continuously talk with customers, employees, and managers to discover where communication might be failing—and then implement the correct tools, processes, or systems to help fill those gaps.
Originally published Mar 15, 2020, updated Feb 25, 2021