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Meet the Twins (Communication and Information) and Their First Cousin (Engagement)

communication of information
Credit: clipart.com

I always thought these three concepts (communication, information, and engagement) were important and necessary to achieve performance excellence. Two recent customer experiences reinforced not only their importance, but the important relationship among them.

Let me recount the experiences. We received a revised customer agreement in the mail for one of our credit cards. Usually, I don't even read that mail (like most people, I assume). But this one caught my eye because of the coincidental place where the cover letter was folded. It highlighted that as of November 15th they would start charging a 3% foreign transaction fee. This was important to me because this was the card we used overseas. It had no foreign transaction fee, it was chip-enabled long before other cards, and that helps in European credit card readers (customer engagement factors!). A few days later, we received an e-mail from the same credit card company announcing important new benefits effective November 15th. One of them was they would no longer charge foreign transaction fees. Huh? Which communication do you believe? So we called and they said yes, that was a new benefit. But they always gave it!

We have a subscription to the opera. When we received our annual renewal, it announced that there would be a $5 discount on parking in the new season (a significant benefit since parking is over $20). When we arrived for the first opera of the season, there was no discount. We asked for it and we were told the discount expired last May; but this was the first opera of the season! When we subsequently called to inquire, we were told that the discount was in anticipation of renovations that would affect ease of parking, but the renovations had not begun yet, so no discount. Of course, this new change was made without any communication with patrons prior to their arrival.

Are either of these examples serious concerns? No, but they did negatively impact my evaluation of the organizations. They demonstrate that communication is important; however conveying incorrect or inaccurate information destroys the benefit gained by communicating with customers. (Maybe that is why universities have schools or colleges of "communication and information.") Furthermore, are communication and accurate information factors in engagement? Sure. How do you react to a business advertising a product for sale, only to arrive at the store (virtually or physically) and find out that the product is sold out or not for sale at the advertised price? What happens to your customer engagement and brand loyalty?

In both the customer engagement and workforce engagement items in the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, the criteria ask about supporting customers and workforce through communication. One assumes the communication will contain meaningful information (i.e. important, timely, and accurate).

Hence the title of this blog post about the twining relationship between communication and information; and the close tie to engagement. I am sure the errors discussed above were unintentional and probably not even realized because different departments likely had responsibility for the two contradictory communications.

So maybe the even more important point is that these two examples are great mini-cases for why organizations need a systems perspective. Components of the system are interdependent and always will be!

This is almost like mom and dad sending different signals to their kids; wait, did that ever happen in my family? Were my wife and I not communicating with each other? Did our kids use it to their advantage sometimes? Certainly not in my family!

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences...

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Comments

Thanks, Harry. I always enjoy reading your blogs. I challenge you to consider tackling the VW customer experience next. I received my letter in the mail just yesterday with the CEO acknowledging my car is affected, and asking their customers for understanding. What am I suppose to be understanding about? The desire to maximize profit at all costs? While generally the letter was well written, "understandably" by someone who was not involved (CEO), wording choice has a lot to do with the effectiveness of communication and customer loyalty. Exactly as you said. Julie
Thanks for your insight and examples. This article is a good reminder that accuracy and timeliness of information impact the credibility of the communicator, which in turn affects the recipient's engagement.
Good article, thank you. Such incidences happens frequently. I believe it's due to short sightedness of decision makers, and lack of understanding of cause and effect. They fail to predict the effects their decisions will cause, and their focus on short term revenue and goals.
Right on, Harry. And I agree with Julie, interested in your comments about VW, its business plan and advertising apparently based on a lie.
There's a phrase, perhaps attributed to Gary Weir, that "you cannot surge trust". At the core of engagement is trust and trust is built from the steady and consistent communication of information that is accurate and honest. At the core of so many failures to sustain trust is a core breach of ethics. VW and others who find themselves having to explain their unethical practices find that fixing the technical problems are minor compared to fixing their breach of trust.
As James points out in his comment, communication of accurate information has a component of honesty. Any system that is to succeed must be based upon a solid set of values. Most organizations I have seen have a term like ethics, integrity, transparency, or honesty somewhere in their stated values. When that ethical value is breached, communication, engagement, and indeed the whole system have failed. Rebuilding that system is a long uphill battle and some organizations do not ever achieve that climb back to respectable heights.

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