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Are you saying what you don't want to say? by David S. Allen

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The signs posted in the physician’s office waiting room made it clear.  There were rules for the humans who sat there.  I happened to be one of them.   

Don’t eat or drink.  Don’t talk on your cell phone.  From noon to 1 p.m., the office is closed while the staff is at lunch.  You must pay your co-pay before you see the doctor.  Cash or checks only.  No credit or debit cards. 

And, the door to the waiting room’s right is to stay closed and locked at all times. 

I carefully looked around the room to make sure I knew all of the rules.  I didn’t eat or drink or talk on my phone or sit in the waiting room during the lunch hour and I paid my co-pay with cash. 

Oh, and I didn’t try to open or unlock that door.

After an hour’s wait, a nurse stepped into the waiting room and announced my name.

I had followed the rules and now I had been chosen to see the doctor. 

After my exam, I asked the physician a question.

“How important is it for you to have patients?” 

He has been a doctor for many years and had been asked thousands of questions I am sure but it was clear no one had asked him that.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I read a number of signs in your waiting room and it looks like to me that patients here are viewed as being a nuisance,” I said. 

Now, he was perplexed.  “Why do you say that?”

I went on to describe why the signs communicated the wrong messages to his patients and how they could be friendlier and more welcoming.

“I had no idea those signs were even out there,” he said.  “I’m glad you told me.” 

And with that, the physician pinpointed an enormously common problem. 

You have numerous opportunities to communicate to customers, clients, donors, patients and prospects. 

--What are you saying? 

--How are your messages perceived by those wonderful people who buy your products or services and keep you in business?

It is easy to ignore those critically important questions--and a mistake to do so.  Here’s how not to ignore them.

  1. Think like the people who pay you and look at every message you send—from signage to policies to voicemail messages to how your phones are answered to your website information to how you correspond with email, documents, etc.  Put yourself in their shoes and look at everything you are communicating.  If you have never done this or haven’t done it lately, I predict you will be unpleasantly surprised. 
  2. Ask those trusted customers and clients if you are sending some message they don’t like.  Don’t use a survey to do this.  Talk to them.  For example:  “We made a change in how we answer phones that you probably noticed.  Do you like the new way?  Does it work well for you?”  A client recently did this and received the same negative feedback from some key customers.  Within an hour, they had fixed the problem their customers had identified.  (Customers like it when you ask for their feedback.  They love it when you actually DO something with it.)
  3. Once you establish the process that helps you see and experience everything you are communicating to clients and prospects, don’t stop looking at it and improving it.  Schedule the activity at least twice a year.