Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

On the roadmap to business success, communication is a two-way street. Communication in one direction entails reinforcing relationships with existing customers/clients and reaching out to new ones. Traffic in the other direction encompasses inquiries, feedback and critiques. Success lies in maintaining a smooth, candid flow in both directions.

Business owners spend a great deal of time and energy to establish and maintain open communication with their target audiences. Many turn to communications specialists to devise and implement strategic plans designed to get and stay in touch with consumers doing or likely to do business with them. The best of the plans falls apart when communication on the other side of the two-way street is ignored, when incoming phone calls and emails are ignored or forgotten.

I’ve never heard an answering machine advising, “You can leave a message if you like. I probably won’t return your call.” I’ve yet to encounter an automated email response challenging, “Email me all you want. I’m too busy to ever get back to you.”

I may get those answers from my teenage son, but they’re not appropriate responses from a business.

There can be legitimate reasons for not responding. Maybe the business is postponing bad news. Maybe the business doesn’t know why the caller is calling. Maybe the business is too stressed or too busy. Maybe the business just doesn’t want to communicate with the caller.

Maybe the callers have forgotten about the two-way street. Maybe the callers haven’t done their part. Maybe the callers haven’t identified themselves. Maybe the callers haven’t stated why they’re calling. Maybe the callers haven’t offered alternative means for getting back to them.

That’s a lot of maybes.

As the sadistic warden said to Cool Hand Luke, “What we have is a failure to communicate.”

Every communication failure is a missed opportunity. The opportunity to touch an existing or potential customer/client is missed. The opportunity to share viewpoints is missed. The opportunity to gain insights and understanding is missed. The opportunity to bolster your reputation – as a business or as an individual – is missed. On the flip side, every communication outreach is an opportunity to do more, to reach further and to do better.

Customer service and positive interactions are hallmarks of success. Most businesses spend a great deal of time and money to burnish a positive public image. They strive to present themselves and their products in the best light. Those on the other side of the communication street are equally committed. They are committed to seeking information, to getting answers, to making their desires known, to having reasonable input.

Technological advances provide myriad ways for people and businesses to communicate.

Technology is streaming processes, increasing productivity, and mandating that actions be taken more quickly. Open, honest, and timely communication is key to maximizing the new, ever-evolving technologies. I often remind clients to remember the basics. All the new technologies don’t grow the bottom line when messages aren’t returned, when phone calls go unanswered, when emails are forgotten in cyberspace.

When I began my professional career, it was impressed upon me that simple manners and etiquette would take me far. “Treat everyone the same,” advised an early mentor and established business leader. “No matter who they are or what they want, they deserve their dignity.” Failing to properly open communication or to properly respond violates dignity on both sides of the two-way street.

Maybe that’s how Jimmy Buffet came up with that song: If The Phone Don’t Ring, It’s Me.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.

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