Effective communication is the foundation of successful customer relations. What's more, communicating successfully with the overwhelming majority of customers in America requires clear, understandable English.
Some tire dealers may call this a foregone conclusion, a proverbial no-brainer. But the more I travel, the more convinced I am that the elements of good effective communication aren't always obvious to every business owner and manager.
Believe it: A dealer who really wants to excel at customer relations will ensure that every worker interacting with the public speaks perfect English. Consumers will recognize and remember this courtesy.
Conversely, dealers who ignore this sign of respect also will distinguish themselves-but for the wrong reason.
When busy consumers have difficulty communicating with this dealer's staff, they'll remember his store as a place to avoid. Unfortunately, this blatantly negative aspect will outweigh any positives such as a dealership's convenient location, clean image or conscientious workers.
Consider the following examples of language-related customer service roadblocks I've encountered within the last few years.
Before loading new software onto my computer, I dutifully read the instructions. Finding what appeared to be a contradiction in the installation instructions, I called the software manufacturer's technical support department. It is not a toll-free call.
The woman who regularly answers the tech support line speaks with a thick, foreign-sounding accent. Our conversation was tedious because I had to ask this woman to repeat almost every sentence to grasp her explanation.
Another incident involved setting up an appointment with a manager who's notorious for being busy and tough to pin down. Given the man's reputation, I telephoned weeks in advance. My schedule was tight and I couldn't order an airline ticket until I determined if a meeting with this fellow would be possible during the trip.
But every time I call this parts company, a fellow with a thick foreign accent answers. His English is very poor and he seems very unsure in spite of the fact that I spell my name very slowly for him every time I phone.
I didn't reach the hard-to-get manager at this company until I happened to get on the line a person who speaks plain English. Coincidence? I sincerely doubt it!
Another time, I'm working on my laptop computer in my hotel room. After a week of playing ``telephone tag,'' I've finally linked up with an engineer I have to interview.
The conversation is full of painstakingly detailed information and I don't have the luxury of tape-recording the interview.
Knowing the man will be referring to various charts, graphs and printouts in my folder or research materials, I arrange critical pages on the bed and floor of the room beforehand. That way, I can find what I need at a glance during the interview.
A hotel maid, apparently hellbent on cleaning my room immediately, keeps pounding on the door. I excuse myself from the interview and ask the woman to stop back later. Her blank expression suggests she's either a heavy drug user or doesn't understand English.
So speaking slowly and as clearly as possible, I ask her to stop back.
When I go out and then return later in the day, the room still isn't made up. The manager happens to be at the front desk as I'm requesting maid service. He's genuinely annoyed at my inability to identify foreign-speaking hotel staffers who can't speak English to guests!
The most recent case of ``communication hell'' I've experienced was at the Los Angeles airport. A badly overbooked flight was postponed, then canceled due to mechanical difficulties. There was pure bedlam at the gate.
When a customer service manager finally addressed the crowd on the public-address system there, it was a fiasco. His accent was so thick we couldn't understand him.
Readers, let's stop tiptoeing across that eggshell called ``political correctness.''
Front-line customer service personnel in any business must speak English fluently and comfortably because, for the vast majority of customers, English is more than a native tongue-it's the only language they speak! What's more, these people pay the bills.
When you're a retail service provider, you usually only get one chance to make a good impression. When customers can't understand your staff easily, you're making the worst possible impression.
Surely, you shouldn't discriminate against capable workers for whom English is a second language.
But when these employees seek work answering the telephone or staffing the front counter, they must be able to demonstrate that they've mastered-or eventually can master-the skills needed for the job.
Try putting yourself in the shoes of your customers. If they struggle to understand a bilingual worker, then that person isn't qualified-or ready-to represent your dealership.
When he or she learns to speak English clearly, then the person is qualified!