Effective communication: it’s everybody’s responsibility

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Have you ever thought you’d heard exactly what someone else said only to discover later that you completely missed the whole point of the conversation? I have and it certainly isn’t pleasant. In the business world it makes for huge inefficiencies and wastes lots of valuable time. My question is: “Whose fault is it and how can we stop it from happening?”

The first part of the question is much easier to answer – it’s both parties’ fault.  The “SENDER” (person doing the talking) has a responsibility to clearly articulate all information that he or she wants to be heard. Senders need to use language that is clear and easily understood by all with whom they are trying to communicate. The “RECEIVER” (person doing the listening) has a responsibility to fully focus on what is being said and to ask qualifying questions to make sure he or she understands what is being communicated. A safeguard for both parties is for the speaker and the listener to either or both request that the other party restate in different words exactly what they heard. When the information is restated in different words you can usually tell if the listener clearly heard and understood what the speaker was attempting to communicate.

This skill is vital in both everyday life (think about some communications with your spouse) as well as in the business world. How many unhappy customers could you possibly have prevented (or prevented becoming) by taking a few extra seconds during the discussions to make sure everyone was clearly communicating what their wants/desires/needs were. In the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.”

The opposite of effective communication is “mutual mystification,” which is when both of you walk away believing you clearly understood what happened, only to discover later that neither of you clearly understood what the other party wanted. THE COURT SYSTEM IS FULL OF THESE CASES!

Try focusing on and practicing good speaking and listening skills this month to see if you can help yourself and your company obtain higher customer satisfaction ratings and lasting connections with your customers.



Go ahead, Tweet it: seven ways to capitalize on the social power of your satisfied (and not-so-satisfied) customers

Ron Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet (Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-09847625-5-2, www.UpliftingService.com) offers seven tips to take advantage of the rich network of fans, friends and followers on social media to spread your message and gather information to make you better at what you do. Read the highlights here and visit www.tileletter.com for the whole story. — Lesley Goddin 

We love telling people about our latest experiences, and we love hearing about what others have experienced. But author Ron Kaufman says many companies are missing out on tapping the social power of their satisfied customers.

“Companies should be saying to their customers, ‘If you did not enjoy our service, please tell us. If you did enjoy our service, please tell someone else,’” Kaufman said. “Tell happy customers to be social about their great experiences and encourage unhappy customers to come to you via social media so that you can make it right and improve your overall service.”

Kaufman notes that a lot of customer service is already being done online, customer to customer, through comments on articles, user forums and message boards.  Companies that embrace this behavior can improve their service and save on costs.

Kaufman said customers will “go out of their way to help a fellow customer find a solution, but for companies to do that back-end customer service there would be a cost. By engaging your customers to help each other, you can defray your costs, improve your customer satisfaction, and stimulate a loyal community by encouraging people in your online social space.”

How do you keep your customers spreading great things about your company while bringing their complaints only to you? Read on for Kaufman’s advice.

Make it easy for them to go social. Provide links in post-service surveys where people can share experiences and encourage them to do so. Kaufman’s website, www.UpYourService.com, offers a Spread the Word section that makes it easy for people to share their experiences.

Say thank you. Show a little love for the love your customers show you. Try a message of gratitude that says, “Thank you so much for spreading the word. As one of our happy customers, when you tell other people about us, it helps us grow and serve you better.” Don’t incentivize this behavior; it tarnishes the genuineness of the comment.

Invite them to reach out. Create a ‘Thanks for Being Social’ promotional piece that includes the company’s Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Yelp and TripAdvisor pages, helpful Twitter hashtags, etc., with a line that reads, ‘If you enjoy our service, please let the world know.’ Leave it with the customer after a job, or post it beside the cash register.

Ask how you can improve. Welcome good and bad instant feedback via social media. “Hear them out, provide them with great service, and then THANK them for sharing their experience with others via Twitter, Facebook…” Kaufman said.

Encourage them to recognize great one-on-one service. United Airlines’ “Outperform Recognition Program” encourages MileagePlus members to enter an exemplary employee’s name via a mobile app; both member and employee can win prizes in a random drawing. “Social programs like these boost employee morale, get customers focused on what employees are doing right, give employees another ‘measurable’ feedback for giving great service, and create a lot more ‘social input’ from customers to the company,” said Kaufman. Compliments received during this process can also be used in publicity campaigns.

Funnel customer questions through social media – then share the best answers. Ask customers to post questions on your Facebook wall, and answer them there for everyone to see. This shares useful information with other customers and enables your company to gather information.

Make talking about your brand irresistible. Provide service so great that customers simply can’t resist telling people about it. In a blog post on The Huffington Post, Chris Hurn, CEO of Mercantile Capital Corporation, shared how the Ritz-Carlton staff went above and beyond after his family accidentally left his young son’s favorite stuffed animal behind after a recent stay. The staff found and safely returned the stuffed animal and took pictures of its extended stay to show Mr. Hurn’s son what a great time his stuffed-animal friend had while staying a bit longer at the hotel.

“That blog post was seen by a portion of The Huffington Post’s 26 million monthly readers and was then tweeted, retweeted, and posted by many on Facebook,” Kaufman said. “Taking photos of a stuffed animal in funny situations didn’t cost Ritz-Carlton a penny, but it delivered social value in a huge way!”

“Your customers’ voices are vital to your organization,” Kaufman concluded. “Social media provides an incredible opportunity to engage those voices, to turn one customer’s great experience into an advertisement that attracts new customers and gets current customers thinking positively about you. It’s an incredibly advantageous way to address customer concerns and improve your company’s service culture in real time.”

Ron Kaufman is a premiere thought leader, educator, and motivator for uplifting customer service and building service cultures in many of the world’s largest and most respected organizations. Find out more about Ron at www.UpliftingService.com. 

Are you a “vendor” or a “craftsman?”

How do you run your business, as a vendor providing tile and stone work, or as a craftsman creating beauty? There is a HUGE difference in compensation and the methods of doing business with your customers.

A vendor is someone who exists just to sell stuff. Nothing else matters except delivering the goods (may include installation) and getting paid. You can expect (negotiate) the low price, sign a contract, and get what you ordered. You can also spend many hours discussing the details of the terms and conditions, etc.

What happens with a craftsman is far different in many aspects. One element of doing business with a craftsman is that the price issue (or low bid) loses its luster. People seek out craftsmen for their skills and talents to create a beautiful statement with their efforts on the customer’s behalf. Price absolutely becomes a secondary by-product of most of those discussions. Time also changes; you don’t rush art by deadlines of time but rather by finishing the look or feel desired.

As we watch our industry still losing businesses to the poor economy, it becomes even more apparent that craftsmen will survive while vendors have a large chance of being pushed from the scene. Just look back over the past two or three years and recall how many businesses have already left the scene. Those companies that ran large crews to do anything and everything quickly and cheaply are mostly gone today; they were the worst offenders in this downward spiral of moving toward the bottom price. Without profit you just cannot stay in business and the very success that drove them to the top of the vendor pile was what did them in.

I ask you to stop today, take time out from “doing” your business, and study your business to see where you are on this scale of vendor versus craftsman. If most of your work is still “low bid”-driven, then you are on the vendor side. If, however, you have chosen to position yourself and your company as a craftsman firm, then you will, I’m confident, be around a long time in this business.

Steve Rausch represents the Substrates and Specialty Products Division of USG Corporation out of Alpharetta, Ga. He’s also the author of the Rausch Ravings blog about business and non-business related topics. Contact him at [email protected] or visit the blog at http://rauschravings.blogspot.com/

Building your sales team

Flowing logically from our recent Business Tip sections on Job Description, Compensation and Recruiting Practices from the NTCA Reference Manual, the Sales Team topic in the Sales chapter of the Business Section details what’s needed for an effective sales team. 

Did you ever wonder why some people seem to be able to sell anything? I’m sure you’ve run across this type of person – and have probably bought something from them! In this section, we’ll talk about how to hire your sales staff, and we’ll address questions like:

  • How much experience should your sales reps have when you hire them?
  • How important are computer skills?
  • What should you look for?
  • What should you include in training for your sales reps?
  • What personality traits make one person a better sales person than another?
  • How do you know if you’re hiring a “star” or a “dud?”

Hiring the right sales people

When you begin the process of hiring your sales team, it pays off to first spend some time planning and setting up a budget. Advertising, recruiting, interviewing, and training are all expensive, and you don’t want to waste your time and money on the wrong candidates.

Before you interview your first applicant, have in place the compensation structure you plan to use. Depending on how attractive it is, it may be a good enticement for top candidates.

Write out the complete job description. For example, put in writing the leg work that must be done prior to making a sales call, how you expect existing customers to be serviced, how you expect records to be maintained, how many calls should be made in a week, etc. Think through the entire sales process and detail how you want it to be done, what tools will be used, and your expectations for their results.

This exercise should include not only what you want sales reps or account managers to do, but also how you want them to approach it. Think about the style of selling you want them to use.

Evaluating your sales candidates

You should have a good idea of the experience and skill level of your job candidates after reviewing the hundreds of resumes you’ve most likely accumulated. At this stage, you should be asking:

  • Have they been in front of people selling before?
  • Are they right out of school, or do they have a few years of experience to draw on?
  • Do you have a strong enough training program to allow you to hire recent grads with no experience?
  • Do they have what it takes to actually perform the technical functions of the job? – In other words, do they have computer skills?

There are a lot of things to think about. With selling, experience isn’t always the most important thing to look at, especially if you have existing sales reps that can assist in the training and mentoring of new recruits.

In order to be good sales representatives, your recruits have to have good research skills to find out about their prospects and know and understand their needs, their business, their business structures, etc. These skills can be taught, but experience in digging up the necessary information is helpful. These days, that experience includes internet research skills, as well as good old-fashioned research techniques – asking co-workers, making phone calls, and using business reference books at the library.

Communication skills

Your candidates also need to be good communicators. The majority of what a sales rep does involves communication –  both written and verbal. Whether it is explaining the specifications of your product or service or communicating how your prospect will benefit from the product or service, much rides on how this is articulated and negotiated. Pay close attention during the interview process to how your candidates articulate their qualities and “sell” themselves to you.

Technical skills

What level of computer skills do your candidates need? If you’re planning on using any type of contact management, then they  have to be familiar with the basics of word processing, spreadsheets, and maybe the fundamentals of relational databases. You should also look for knowledge of presentation software like Microsoft® PowerPoint. Many clients expect high-level presentations from sales representatives, so your reps have to be comfortable using technology, and in some cases designing their own presentations.

Outside sales

Outside sales representatives, also simply known as sales reps, are professionals who commonly travel to businesses or other organizations in order to sell their firm’s products or services. Maintaining contact with current customers and attracting new ones, professional sales reps make presentations to buyers and management or may demonstrate items to production supervisors. Salaries are typically at least partly based on performance since outside sales workers frequently receive commissions on their sales. Although many sales workers receive a base salary in addition to commission, some receive compensation based solely on sales revenue.

Inside sales

An inside sales representative position is exactly what it sounds like: selling products to potential customers from within a sales office. This means that an inside sales representative will primarily be speaking to existing customers and potential customers and following leads over the phone. Inside sales, where showrooms are involved, may require working with product selection for customers or their designer representative.

Most inside sales positions don’t require much more than a high school diploma. Most training is completed on-the-job. Inside sales representatives must be able to communicate effectively and persuasively both in person and on the telephone and good computer skills is essential.

For access to this entire document, as well as the information-packed NTCA Reference Manual itself, contact Jim Olson at [email protected] or 601-939-2071 to speak about NTCA membership. 

NTCA Reference Manual: Recruiting and hiring practices, part II

TileLetter’s Business Tip section will periodically feature excerpts and synopses from the new NTCA Reference Manual Business Section. Within the Organizational Development chapter of this document is Part II of information on Recruiting and Hiring practices for your company. Part I of this section – which addressed finding applicants and interviews – appeared in the Coverings issue of TileLetter.


Verify the compensation structure to be sure it is in line with the position before making an offer to a job applicant. Publications are available showing the current compensation ranges for most positions. The compensation ranges are different for different parts of the country; make sure you are looking in your area. Ask the Better Business Bureau for the name of a firm who publishes this information or check the internet for salary and wage survey data. Industry associations are also a good source of wage and salary data.

Ask friends and contacts in the industry what the compensation ranges are for the position you wish to fill.

If you ask for salary histories from the applicants, and if they tell the truth, their responses will give you an idea of the general salary range of how much people are presently paying in your geographic area for the position you are seeking to fill.

Check references 

There are several basic questions that should always be asked including:

  • How are you acquainted with the candidate?
  • How would you describe the overall quality of his/her performance?
  • Would you hire this person again?

There are other equally-important areas that need to be covered that will be unique either to the firm or the job itself or possibly both. For instance, the person doing the reference checking needs to understand the culture requirements. For example:

  • Does the candidate need to be someone who can be an agent for change within the organization or someone who has the ability to maintain the status quo?
  • Will the job allow the candidate to continue his career growth and development, or will it be perceived as a dead end job?
  • What is the firm’s management philosophy?
  • Are firm personnel encouraged to be creative, or is everyone supposed to stay within the lines?
  • To what type of person will the successful candidate report: a hard-driving no-nonsense manager who takes a strong hand-on approach, or a more laid-back individual who delegates?

Reference-check questions need to be thought through carefully and are not to be asked in a vacuum. It’s one thing to inquire about a candidate’s past job performance. It’s quite another to determine whether or not that performance is relevant to the position being filled.

Suppose a candidate’s references all describe him/her as a person who prefers to work independently and who doesn’t require or desire much supervision to get the job done thoroughly and on time. Then suppose that the manager for whom this candidate will be working is very hands-on and likes to closely monitor the progress of projects he/she has assigned to subordinates. There could be a potential problem.

Suppose a prime candidate is described as someone who is ambitious and eager to move up within the organization by doing more than is expected and getting things done ahead of schedule. Then suppose that the person to whom the candidate will report is a solid performer who is content with the position he or she holds and the type of individual who goes out of his or her way to avoid controversy? Could that ambitious candidate be faced with a potential fast-track career advancement roadblock?

Even though a candidate receives what appear to be glowing reviews from references, these comments need to be put within a broader context that compares past performance to the nature of the job that needs filling.

It’s not just a matter of determining if the candidate is right for the job. Determine if the job is right for the candidate. Tailor reference questions to ensure proper fit.

For access to this entire document, as well as the information-packed NTCA Reference Manual itself, contact Jim Olson at [email protected] or 601-939-2071about NTCA membership.

NTCA Reference Manual: Recruiting and hiring practices

TileLetter’s Business Tip section will periodically feature excerpts and synopses from the new NTCA Reference Manual Business Section. Within the Organizational Development chapter of this document is part one of information on Recruiting and Hiring practices for your company. Part II to appear in the April issue of TileLetter.

Finding applicants

There are a number of ways applicants may be sought and recruited:

  • Word of mouth around the industry. This method has the best chance to find someone with specific experience in the position to be filled.
  • Local Church Employment Services.
  • Local or out of town newspapers, it is always better to find someone who lives in the area, but for some positions, it is very difficult.
  • Employment Agencies, more commonly called “Head Hunters”. This method is much more convenient, but you still cannot rely totally on the headhunter to get the right person.  Remember s/he will get paid if you fill the position, whether the person is the right one for the job is still your responsibility. Using an Employment Agency tends to be expensive, typically 25% to 33% of the first year’s salary of the person hired.
  • Writing and placing an ad. It should be short and to the point.  Some decisions, which have to be made about the ad, are:
    • Whether or not to give the name of the firm. If you do, you will have people showing up at the door or telephone inquiries. Have the receptionist pass out applications, without taking up manager time.
    • All telephone inquiries should be handled by the receptionist with “We are not accepting telephone calls for this position; please submit your resume via mail, fax or e-mail.”
    • In the event a personnel agency calls in response to the ad, request a brochure/firm information, written fee schedule and references before entering into any discussions about current or future/planned position openings.
    • Whether or not to give the salary range offered. Typically, the pay is listed on hourly jobs, but on salaried jobs, you would simply state “Salary DOE.”
    • Whether to give a newspaper blind ad, a P.O. box, or the address of the firm.
    • Most companies include a request for salary history. Asking for salary history is acceptable.  You may even state “Must include salary history to be considered.”

Review all the responses and grade appropriately.


Call those of interest and screen/interview over the telephone, using a prepared set of questions. Keep the telephone-screening interview brief. The purpose is to determine whether a face-to-face interview is warranted.

Schedule personal interviews with those who show promise. On the personal interviews, use a checklist to make sure all the requirements of the position are covered. Utilize the Job Candidate Evaluation Rating Form located at the end of the Employment Interview Questions procedure.
Go through the notes of the personal interviews and invite finalists to a second interview with another firm manager/peer employee. Maximum 2-4 applicants. Don’t settle for someone that is not right for the job, just because you haven’t found anyone better.

If no good candidates are found, begin another round of interviewing.

  • Review the pick(s) in order of preference.
  • Conduct background check/verification and references.
  • Make an employment offer.
  • A verbal offer is appropriate for hourly employees.
  • For salaried employees, you should make an offer in writing.

For access to this entire document, as well as the information-packed NTCA Reference Manual itself, contact Jim Olson at [email protected] or 601-939-2071about NTCA membership.

NTCA Reference Manual Business Section

TileLetter’s Business Tip section will periodically feature excerpts and synopses from the new NTCA Reference Manual Business Section. Within the Strategic Planning chapter of the NTCA Reference Manual Business Section is information on formulating the Vision, Mission and Values statements for your company:

A. Vision/Mission/Values Statement

  • I. Vision: Defines the way an organization will look in the future. Vision is a long-term view, sometimes describing how the organization would like the world to be in which it operates. For example, a charity working with the poor might have a Vision Statement which reads, “A World without Poverty.”
  • II. Mission: Defines the fundamental purpose of the organization, describing why it exists and what it does to achieve the Vision. It is sometimes used to set out a “picture” of the company in the future. A Mission Statement provides details of what is done and statements like “job training for the homeless and unemployed.”
  • III. Values: Beliefs that are shared among the decision-makers of the organization. Values drive the culture and priorities and provide a framework in which decisions are made. For example, “Knowledge and skills are the keys to success” is an example of the values of the company. The Strategic Plan combines the goals for which the firm is striving and the means (policies) by which it is seeking to get there. A strategy is sometimes called a “roadmap” which is the path chosen to plow towards the end Vision. The most important part of implementing the strategy is ensuring the company is going in the right direction, which is toward the end Vision.

Organizations sometimes summarize goals and objectives into a Mission Statement and/or a Vision Statement. Others begin with a Vision and Mission and use them to formulate goals and objectives.

  • A Mission Statement tells you the fundamental purpose of the organization. It defines the customer and the critical processes. It informs you of the desired level of performance.
  • A Vision Statement outlines what the company wants to be, or how it wants the world in which it operates to be. It concentrates on the future. It is a source of inspiration. It provides clear decision-making criteria.

For example, a tile contracting company may have a Mission of becoming the largest and most profitable commercial company in its market. Another company may want to remain small and work specifically with custom homes and remodeling projects. The Mission Statement is where you can clearly define who you want to be.

An advantage of having a statement is that it creates value for those who get exposed to it, such as owners, managers, employees, and sometimes even customers. Statements create a sense of direction and opportunity.

Many people mistake the Vision Statement for the Mission Statement, and sometimes one is used as a longer-term version of the other. The Vision should explain why it is important to achieve the Mission. A Vision Statement defines the purpose or broader goal for being in existence and can remain the same for decades if crafted well. A Mission Statement is more specific to what the company can become. Vision should describe what will be achieved in the bigger picture if the company and others are successful in achieving their individual missions.

Which comes first? It depends. If you have a new start-up company, or a new program to re-engineer your current services – such as a maintenance division – then the Vision will guide the Mission Statement and the rest of the Strategic Plan. If you have an established business where the mission is established, then many times, the mission guides the Vision Statement and the rest of the Strategic Plan. Either way, you need to know your fundamental purpose (Mission) and your current situation in terms of resources and capabilities (strengths and weaknesses) and external conditions (opportunities and threats), and where you want to go (Vision) for the future. It is vital that you keep the end or desired result in sight from the start.

To become effective, the Vision Statement must become part of the company culture. Leaders have the responsibility of communicating the Vision regularly, acting as role-models by embracing the Vision, creating short-term objectives compatible with it, and encouraging others to craft their own personal Vision compatible with company Vision.

For access to this entire document, as well as the information-packed NTCA Reference Manual itself, contact Jim Olson at [email protected] or 601-939-2071 about NTCA membership.

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