Being told to “just wait until your father gets home” was a very effective method of punishment for me as a child. Any reprimand I received from Dad upon his homecoming was easy compared to the torture of waiting from him to arrive. That’s probably the reason I’m now quick to confess when I’ve made a mistake – waiting to see if my husband, boss, client, or whoever finds out about it is more torturous than whatever bad things might happen as a result of my confession. Turns out, this type of behavior is called proactive communication, and it’s not only good for the conscious, it’s good for business.
Dictionary.com defines “proactive” as serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, especially a negative or difficult one. So, proactive communication with your customers is essentially speaking up about a negative situation before they discover it on their own.
One negative situation is when you’ve made a mistake. Opening up about your mistakes before your customers find out about them creates a sense of trust (a belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.), and people obviously want to do business with people they trust. For example, I had a picture framed at a local business a few years ago. I supplied the frame and matting, the business just needed to insert the picture and provide the backing. While completing the task, an employee accidentally nicked the matting and created a small tear. I probably never would have noticed it had the employee not let me know about it. The employee telling me and offering to replace the matting for free resulted in me returning with more business for them over the years.
Another negative situation is when things aren’t going as planned. Letting your customers know about a delay or a change and the reason for it can minimize their negative response. For example, my parents arrived early for my dad’s appointment at a medical facility recently. The appointed time came and went without him being seen. While they waited, several patients who arrived after they did were called and escorted from the lobby to the rooms beyond, which understandably frustrated my mom and dad. On their way out of the facility following his appointment, an employee explained to my parents that the reason for the delay was that the equipment needed for my dad was being fixed and the other patients did not need that equipment for their appointments. That’s a reasonable explanation, which, had they been told earlier would have prevented my parents from becoming upset. It also would have prevented the staff from having to deal with a grumpy patient.
So, speak up when you’ve made a mistake or when you anticipate that a situation might make your customer unhappy. Doing so creates trust, which is essential for long-lasting business relationships. Not doing so can lead to unpleasant surprises and your customers taking their business elsewhere.