Change is inevitable in business. New rules, regulations, product features, prices, procedures, policies, personnel, and customer portals, for example, happen all the time. Most of the time, change isn’t easy—and when customers experience change in the way of higher prices, confusion, and red tape, their perception of and overall experience with your company can waver. That’s why, when change is on the horizon, it’s important to reach for a fundamental, yet frequently overlooked business tool: human communication. These four steps should be part of your strategy.

  1. Tell staff first. When change is coming, give a “heads-up,” talking points, and a list of anticipated frequently asked questions (FAQs) well in advance. Ideally, front line staff should create and contribute to those FAQs ahead of time. Tell your staff about the change at hand through internal, cross-functional meetings and conference calls. Issue e-mails. Post announcements on your firm’s intranet. Inform the contact center, if you have one. Coordinate an internal, all-hands meeting to communicate the upcoming change and answer staff questions. If employees are confused or feel “in the dark” about changes, then customers will, too. That’s why your staff should always know first.
  2. Illuminate the bridge between staff and customers. Don’t assume staff should “just know” the details of how change will be communicated to customers. Spell out the change communication plan. Be open with staff about the timing, nature, and frequency of how phone, e-mail, letters, websites, and other communication channels will be used to share information with customers about change. Make sure you understand and address staff’s concerns about talking with customers about change. Don’t assume there are no concerns among your staff.
  3. Harmonize your communication points. Customers should have easy access to clear, consistent information about change, regardless of how, when, and where they engage with your company. Harmonize messages on your website, in your social channels, on customer portals, mobile devices, e-mails, onsite flyers, and hallway posters, for example. Don’t skimp on consistent messaging.When customers get mixed information on one channel as compared to another, that creates a burden for customers. In 2016, for example, a Government Accountability Office report detailed how the Small Business Administration’s lack of message integration across communication channels caused a confusion burden for SBA’s customers. Burdens are negative, time-consuming experiences nobody wants.
  4. Pulse check. Stay in tune with customer reactions to change. These pulse checks will keep you ahead of concerns, issues, gaps, and business risks. Use surveys, round tables, or customer interviews to understand the impact of change. Check with staff frequently to ensure they still have everything they need to talk with customers about changes. Give staff the opportunity to add to your database of FAQs or to pass along customer feedback.

Human communication is fundamental to employees’ and customers’ experiences with any organization, yet it is often undervalued in times of change. However, when change impacts customers, a thoughtful, thorough communication strategy can be the most effective tool in maintaining high levels of employee and customer satisfaction. Reach out to me if you need help with customer and employee change communication strategies and tactics, and feel free to comment with your own tried-and-true communication points.

Blog originally published on LinkedIn