THE BLOG

Communication and Customer Service

07/08/2013 17:55 BST | Updated 06/10/2013 10:12 BST

In the short time that I've been on the earth, the methods used for communicating have changed dramatically. I used a typewriter throughout my university work along with lots of white out, started using e-mail when I was in my early thirties and didn't have a mobile until I was 40. (I recently read that a Kremlin Security Agency is buying typewriters to prevent information leaks). I own a laptop and regularly use e-mail, SMS, Skype and Facebook, but don't own a smart phone or tablet. All of these advances have made it so much easier to "flatten" communications and remain in contact with friends and family no matter where I might be living.

It would seem obvious that given the state of technology, communication and customer service have improved, but I'm not sure that this is the case. Part of this has to do with how busy our lives have become, at least from what I've observed in urban areas. How often are we talking to someone face to face and get interrupted by a phone call or SMS or feel a need to check e-mails? How often is it that one sends out an e-mail and gets no response? How often do we engage in active listening and really "being present" with others? How often do people make promises and then not deliver by an agreed upon date?

When I was Director of the Central Market, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania the oldest farmers' market in the US located in the heart of the Amish Country, I didn't understand enough about the environment in which the market was operating, about being present, i.e. focusing on another person and truly listening, greeting someone by looking into their eyes and taking the time to talk. Living overseas has helped me to have more understanding regarding the depths necessary for intentional, conscious communication to take place, especially given that I am not fluent in any other language besides English.

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It is important to consistently communicate, even if the response might be considered negative. A good example of this is applying on-line for a job and receiving a mechanical response, "due to the high volume of applications received, only those short listed will be contacted". Another example is sending an e-mail asking a specific request and not receiving a response because the person might not be able to help. How about when you call someone, there being no response and the person never returns the phone call; or chatting on Skype or Facebook or other platforms and the conversation suddenly ends?

On some level those of us fortunate enough to avail ourselves of technology have the capability to be in constant communication, but somehow we have become so inundated with information that we end up ignoring another person who is trying to make a connection with us. By having the ability to use technology and not following up, we take relationships for granted and end up losing them. This is true in all faucets of our lives.

Many years ago when I was Director of a small HIV/AIDS NGO in the US, I was so enamored with e-mailing and sending out many mails, that I began to lose a personal connection with my colleagues. Instead of walking down the hall to chat I would have an e-mail conversation because I thought that it would be more efficient. In fact, it only served to put up barriers.

In both my personal and work lives I try to focus on the person that I'm speaking with, but it is not uncommon for me to be having five chats at one time on Skype and FB. In this way I'm not serving anyone and can't be present for the person on the other end. I wouldn't be surprised if the people that I was speaking with were in a similar boat and chatting with a number of others. Multi-tasking is such a way of life and even I do it. While recently in the US, I spent time on the computer, chatting with friends, not wanting to lose these connections; I enjoy being connected throughout the world, but maintaining my ability to have face to face relationships is key.

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How we communicate with others, determines the strength of our relationships and the service which we're willing to provide. Prior to going to the US I had to change my flights a number of times and literally spent hours and hours on Skype with the on-line travel company. They were always courteous and I felt as if they provided excellent customer service, being very responsive and attentive to my needs. Some of the results of our conversations responded to my request but some didn't. The important thing for me was that somebody was listening and doing their best to help. Upon returning to Nepal I had a customer service request for a local company. Initially I was somewhat hassled and told that nothing could be done because of the rules. I spoke with three people who said they couldn't do anything. I then sent an e-mail explaining the situation and miraculously, without any notification, the issue was resolved.

My personal acknowledgement as to how to communicate better has come with maturity. It isn't that I will slow down in my work and interests, but it does, as my VSO training emphasized over and over, come down to building relationships and this comes through personal communication.