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May 23, 2018

Small Business Advice

Communicate with your customers before problems arise

"Assumptions are the termites of relationships." ~ Henry Winkler

Jerry Osteryoung | 6/25/2012

Regular communication with your customers is so important especially in a situation where, for whatever reason, you are unable to provide the customer all the answers they require. Even if you do not have all the information, failing to communicate is the worst thing you can do. Reason being, your customer will think you are ignoring them, and that certainly is not going to produce happy customers.

One time I had to take my car to the dealership for repairs. They had some difficulty getting the required part, so my car stayed there for over a week. During this time, I called every day to check on the status, and each time, the service advisor would say, “I have no further information,” in a very negative tone. I knew what he really wanted to say was, “I told you I would call when I have more information. Are you not hearing me?”

Jerry Osteryoung
Jerry Osteryoung

The service advisor assumed I understood that he was not calling because he had no additional information to share. However, from my perspective, I had no way of knowing if that was why I was not hearing anything or if the reason was that he had forgotten about me. All he had to do was call me every day to report that they had not yet heard from the manufacturer but they were still working on it. This quick phone call would have reassured me that my problem was an important priority and they were going to get the job done as soon as possible.

For another example, I recently went with some great friends to a baseball game. The weather was ominous, so we were not surprised to see the field covered with a tarp when we arrived at the stadium. However, we all had smart phones so we could see that the bad weather would end shortly.

Come game time, the tarp was still covering the field, but no announcement had been made about canceling the game. We hung around, talking and having a ball, but began to get concerned about an hour later when still, no announcement had been made.

We asked various stadium employees, but each one said they had no idea about the game. We finally left two hours after the scheduled game time only to hear upon our exit that the game had been postponed.

Clearly, the administrators of this baseball game did not know when the officials or the TV broadcast would allow the game to start, but not saying anything to those of us sitting in the stadium was so much worse than saying they did not know the status of the game. All they had to do was come over the loud speaker and say, “We do not know when the game will start but we will provide updates every 15 minutes.”

Though neither the service advisor at the car dealership nor the administrators at the stadium were intentionally ignoring their customers, that is precisely what it felt like from the customer’s perspective. Any communication at all would have gone a long way in both these situations.

As these stories demonstrate, it is so important that employees who interact with your customers turn every situation around and look at the problem from the customer’s perspective. What would they want to hear if they were in the customer’s shoes?

Now go out and make sure you have a plan in place to communicate with your customers even if you do not have all of the information they need. It is so much better to say you do not have the answer yet than to ignore your valuable customers.

You can do this.

Go to Links Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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