I have been in the business world for over 40 years, and if I had to name one thing that caused more problems than any other throughout that career, it is poor communication. More specifically, poor UPFRONT communication. Let me explain.
We are in the business of taking orders for custom printing where there are a million things that need to be addressed, and if not handled properly, can cause problems. I have found that a prevalent characteristic in our industry is that the printing company representative is afraid to address issues with the client that they perceive as uncomfortable early in their relationship. Or they get lazy or in a hurry. Because they fail to deal with some key issues, they cause problems unnecessarily.
The biggest issue faced most of the time is meeting deadlines. It is common for us to provide a proof of the print job to a customer. The customer sits on the proof and does not review or approve it in a timely fashion. However, the customer still expects us to deliver the job on time even though they created a delay due to their lack of attention. We end up scrambling to meet the delivery, sometimes in almost impossible circumstances. Then if we don’t meet the delivery, the customer is mad and blames it on us.
This whole situation can be avoided if the person talking to the customer, at the point where the customer initially places the order, would make the following statement.
This same concept is true for any situation where there is potential for disagreements later that could be avoided by simply laying down the rules of engagement upfront. Another common example that applies to any business that ships product goes like this. The client says, “I need this product by Friday.” You say “OK” and hang up. You place an order for your team to ship the product on Friday. Your company ships on time, and the client receives it Tuesday because it took two days for UPS to deliver it. The client calls and is mad because you missed their deadline. You look it up and see that you shipped it on time, and then get into a disagreement with the client over the issue.
The whole thing could have been avoided with a straightforward question from you. “What time Friday do you need it?” That would have then led to a conversation about exactly when they need the product in their hands, and you could have then taken shipping time into account to make sure they got it when they wanted it.
The referees are good at doing this at the beginning of boxing matches, baseball, or football games. But in business and life, it is very common for people to ASSUME the rules without ever clarifying them. The problem with assumptions is that the parties involved are free to define those themselves, and it is rare that two parties agree if there is no communication upfront.
Take an extra five minutes at the front end of every business deal to make sure you go over all the details of what is supposed to happen and when and you will find that the number of problem situations decreases dramatically.