Recently I was at a local gas station, when I saw a sign that was partially hidden. It said in big bold letters, “Back pump is temporarily out of order.” Just when I was wondering why the back pumps had problems, I saw a sign next to it saying, “Front pump is temporarily out of order.” As I was filling gas, I noticed that these were permanent all-weather metal signs.

When I started driving, I realized the permanent nature of the signs show that the occurrence of the temporary problem must be quite frequent. It was so frequent that the business had allocated resources at all its locations to print this permanent metal signage and kept it ready at hand for employees to use them, the moment one pump is out. It was sad to think that the business has resigned to the fact that some pumps will be temporarily out of order, quite frequently.

What kind of a message did it send to its employees and customers?  But then I found my glass-half-full mindset. There were four sets of pumps and as there was only one sign for front pumps and one for back pumps, the business was quite confident that at any point of time only one of the front pumps and one of the back pumps can be out of order.

Businesses often create a permanent communication to a problem, not realizing it is saying that it is OK to expect the failure regularly. In the process, they are effectively giving up on trouble shooting why the problem is happening in the first place. What would be your reaction if you see permanent signage in the following scenarios:

  1. A restaurant: “Today we are taking extra-long to prepare your food.”
  2. An airline on-hold message: “Today it is taking a long time to answer customer calls.”
  3. Multiple shelves in a retail store: “Today we regret not having this item in stock.”
  4. Hotel: “The elevator is temporarily out of order.”
  5. An emergency room: “Sorry, due to scheduling problems we do not have any physicians present.”

In each of these scenarios, what will the permanent signage make you feel?  Will you feel that the bar of service is set low? Or will you now expect a problem-filled experience? Does this evoke confidence in the business and help you trust the brand? And without trust can a connection or relationship ever happen? See, simple signage can take a big step in bringing down a brand’s image.

In short, the business’s effort of efficiently disclosing the problem creates a bigger problem for the brand.

Questions for you:

  1. What do you do when you identify a frequently occurring problem?
  2. Do you want to accept that the problem will happen and set up a transparent problem communication plan? Or
  3. Do you want to invest in solving the problem?

The path you choose positions your business as a “We have a problem” or “we solve problems” mindset. What is even more critical is this one decision will go a long way to set the tone of your business’s culture.

There are no shortcuts in the business world. If you want to offer great customer service consistently, the key is not just communication but putting your best effort forward to solve every customer problem, if possible, every day.

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