Fire Hydrant Lessons in Communication

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Summary:

A while ago we got a notice that the town would be installing a fire hydrant near our house. OK, fine. Weeks went by with no information about when it would happen. Then one Wednesday my husband was outside and saw a guy doing some marking and measuring. They started chatting. The guy said they'd be doing the installation two days later, on Friday. And almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that they'd be turning off our water for the duration.

A while ago we got a notice that the town would be installing a fire hydrant near our house. OK, fine. Weeks went by with no information about when it would happen. Then one Wednesday my husband was outside and saw a guy doing some marking and measuring. They started chatting. The guy said they'd be doing the installation two days later, on Friday. And almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that they'd be turning off our water for the duration.

Really? When were they going to tell us if we hadn't just happened upon the information? What if we had a sick child or an elderly person who would have required special arrangements if we were to be without water? Weren't we entitled to be kept informed?

I was out all day Friday. When I returned, no fire-hydrant work was finished - or even started. And no one had called to say the Friday plan was off or when it would be back on. Weren't we entitled to be kept informed?

On Monday, bright and of course early, a bunch of trucks and equipment showed up and got to work. Again, no notice, either in advance or in the moment. If we hadn't rushed out to move the cars up the block, they'd have been blocked by a gaping hole in the road. Oh, and the water. My husband talked to one of the workers, who said (but only upon being asked) that the water would be turned off all day. Weren't we entitled ... ?

With the water turned off and the ear-piercing rat-a-tat-tat outside the house, I left for the gym. A couple of hours after I returned, the water was back on.

During this entire saga, I kept thinking about how frustrating it is not to be kept informed about matters of importance. Indeed, that's a common customer complaint, not just in matters of fire-hydrant installation, but also in IT circles. In my work in helping IT organizations improve customer satisfaction, I've had many opportunities to interview customers, and one recurring complaint concerns not being given information in a timely basis - or at all - that affects their ability to do their work.

On the flip side, customers who give their IT organizations high ratings often comment about how well the IT staff keeps them in the loop and communicates about what's going to happen and when. Clearly, this type of communication is not merely a common courtesy - although it's certainly that. It's also a key factor influencing customer satisfaction.

How do you rate yourself and your team in keeping your customers informed about matters that are important to them?

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