Industry Professionals Discuss Imparity of Effective Customer Communication

A few simple rules about communicating with customers will give you a better shot at building long-term relationships.

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Recently I was negotiating the purchase of a used car. The dealership wasn’t in my area, so I was working with a salesman over the phone and via email. As I was waiting for some paperwork I’d requested before sending him my check, the salesman became impatient and surprisingly argumentative. He wanted the check right away and hinted that I was being a difficult customer.

“Well, do you still want me to buy a car from your dealership?” I asked, incredulous about his pressuring tactics. Unfortunately, the discussion deteriorated further, and I ended up calling the dealership manager. As I suspected, this was the end of the month and the salesman was stretching to meet a quota of some kind.

“We put a lot of demands on the sales staff,” the manager explained as he gave me an apology. “We teach them not to let that pressure transfer to the customer, but sometimes it happens. I assure you that’s not the way we treat customers and we want you to be happy about your purchase.”

The salesman was guilty of a lapse in good customer service, though this is certainly not the first or last time a used car salesman and a customer didn’t get off on the right foot. After all, if there’s one purchase consumers dread, it’s walking into a dealership and buying a car.

The prickly back-and-forth with this salesman, however, made me think about the do’s and don’ts of effective communication between your employees and customers. Here are a few rules for you to consider and talk over with your crew:

Never let them see you sweat

My friend at the car dealership reflected his frustration at work back to me and risked a potential sale. I’m sure you and your drivers face similar pressures on a daily basis – an emergency call piles on top of several other appointments, a restroom servicing that appears easy at first turns into a terrible mess, a customer complaint early in the day is making you grouchy in the afternoon. You can’t let those situations carry over to the next customer on your route.

If you run a portable sanitation route, you have to be even-keeled and diplomatic from sun-up to sundown. You’re representing the company and professionalism is paramount to maintaining a good reputation. Keep in mind offering competent service isn’t enough. To provide good customer care you always have to smile, be polite, and help educate your customers from pulling into the driveway to handing over the invoice.

The customer always has to think he’s right

Do you want to develop a good relationship with a customer and get the call the next time they need a restroom? Then you can’t argue with a customer. Period.

I recall working in a retail store many years ago. The department store’s marketing line was, “It’s not yours until you like it!” At first, that promise seemed like an open-ended invitation for customers to return goods, and a few customers took it quite literally, returning some pretty threadbare clothing. But after a time, I came to appreciate the sentiment that catchphrase represented.

Real customer loyalty only comes from continual satisfaction with the service provided. And sometimes to ensure that satisfaction, you might have to do things you think are above and beyond the scope of your work. This could mean cleaning up a portable restroom after a construction site tip-over, for instance. Or making an extra service run at a special event because the customer – against your advice – didn’t order enough restrooms in the first place. A customer may be wrong from time to time, but you can’t tell them without risking losing them.

Be clear and direct

There’s a thin line between miscommunication and lack of communication. In all of your client dealings, convey important details clearly and reinforce the message. When you follow up on a complaint, for instance, tell the customer what you’re going to do to remedy the situation, and then return and tell them what you did to make things right. Address questions and concerns head-on and don’t make excuses. If you make a promise, do everything in your power to keep it. If you’re going to miss a deadline, let the customer know ahead of time and explain why.

Many years ago, a boss told me he didn’t mind if an employee made a mistake. What bothered him was being surprised by mistakes or workers who didn’t own up to their errors. It’s the same between you and your customers. If something goes wrong, don’t let the problem fester and risk hurting your relationship. Own the mistake, apologize for any inconvenience it caused, and make it right. Clear and direct communication will help build loyalty even after a bad situation.

Know when to pick up the phone

Sometimes communication by email, text or snail mail is appropriate, but there are situations where nothing replaces picking up the phone and calling or jumping in the truck and visiting a customer. You need to know which situations demand a more personal interaction.

Emails and texts are great time-saving tools for business communication. But they can cause relationship-killing misunderstandings. Sure, it’s fine to tap out a text to remind a client what time you’ll arrive at their shop or construction site. But a quick, condensed message is no way to answer a complaint or tell a customer that you’re going to have to charge them to repair a vandalized restroom pulled from their work site.

People dash off written messages lightning fast. We all sometimes let our fingers get ahead of our brains. When you’re in the middle of a flurry of messages on an extremely busy day, slow down and take a moment to consider if you’re taking the right approach when communicating with customers. And when it doubt, don’t push send. Pick up the phone.


Like the car dealership manager knew, probably from years of experience in sales, there’s always a time to step in and make a customer service course correction. He knew the first order of business was to say he was sorry. Then he artfully handed me off to another salesman to complete the transaction in a less confrontational manner. The lesson in this situation is that even if a relationship goes awry, you may still have a shot at regaining the customer’s confidence.


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