Business Communication · Organizational Development

Evolving Your Communication Channel Use

Communication effects may have a broad selection of definitions and interpretations, but in my trainings I typically refer to the outcome of the message exchange process. Specifically, when you communicate through any channel at work, are you contributing value to your organization (or not)? How do you know? OUTCOMES are the measuring stick for organizational communication consistencies.

Researchers who take a mechanistic perspective to communication focus on the transmission process, the movement of a message across a channel, from one person or point, to another person or point. The events or functions occurring on the channel become the focus of research, and can inform your analysis of the communication process within your organization. For example, when recently working with a sales team, I learned they were using email to reach out to the engineering team for advanced technical issues or when the technical support team was not available. An email was sent to the entire engineering team asking, “Who can take this call?” The outcome(s): customers on hold without getting their problems resolving on the first call, delayed responses/no responses increased sales team frustration, and no repeatable higher level training for the technical support team based on those calls. They were using the wrong channel to communicate the message.

Email isn’t the right channel when the situation requires fast feedback. Telephone doesn’t work as well in environments where team members are mobile, but can be your first choice when employees are mostly available at their desks where they have quick access to necessary resources.

I suggested the Shoretel phone system option of instant message to a specific user on the system who could be quickly alerted to the customer name and issue before picking up the call. Instant messaging through Shoretel or another platform is a preferred channel because exchanges are happening in real time as needed and aren’t as disruptive as phone calls prior to the customer call transfer. If employees are using company cell phones, texting might be the channel of choice when urgency drives communication. When standard work stations aren’t the norm because employees are on the move on site, radios (walkie-talkies) might be most effective.

Once the customer problem has been solved, the next tangible outcome in the technical communication chain is shared learning. When one employee encounters a unique customer situation, or a new situation, what are the questions asked and the results of those questions? What worked and didn’t work – what was the final solution? How do we capture that exchange and use it to train other team members who field those types of calls? And in some environments, how are these calls tracked so we can “engineer in” a solution to the situation and reduce customer issues?

A common communication issue I observe is employees using the communication channel they prefer instead of the channel appropriate for the situation and desired outcome. This week focus on the communication channels available to you and your use of those channels: when do you use them, why do you use them, and how effective is your use of them based on outcomes?

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