Story time: Communication problems and what it REALLY costs you…

It’s amazing to think just how popular ‘Fawlty Towers’ remains, considering they made just 13 episodes. Yet it was the characters and some of the lines that became part of comedy folklore:

“Dont mention the war- I did once, but I think I got away with it!”

“What are you looking at? Get on with your meals!”

“About your Waldorf salad- well I’m sorry but it appears that we’re all out of waldorfs.”

My favourite line was in one particular episode where Basil (on the verge of losing it) punches his open hand and says “Right- I think I’ll go and hit some guests!” For me it was the visual of Basil storming into the dining room then indiscriminately punching hotel patrons as they sat and ate that cracked me up.

Yet certain episodes were equally frustrating as they were funny, with one prime example being an episode titled ‘Communication Problems‘. In it, one of the hotel guests is a deaf woman named Miss Richards, and what made her so annoying wasn’t just that she kept forgetting to turn her hearing aid on. It was her manner as well- overly demanding, uptight, loud monotone voice, the stick up her arse type. You know the sort…

Poor communicators are so frustrating because they don’t just make life more difficult for themselves. Everybody they come into contact with risks having their time, energy and yes- money- wasted as result. Looking back, I can think of a few examples of this from my own life:

Story #1: The Bi-Polar Property Managers

It was my 1st year studying in Brisbane and I lived in a student accomodation place where (at the end of the university year) I’d cleared out my stuff and stored it in the flat, because I was moving down the hallway to the bigger (and now vacant) room when I came back for the new semester. Now as you know, part of moving out of your rental dwelling is that you’re expected to clean it before you vacate- which I did. I vacuumed the carpet, dusted and wiped down the windowsills and desktops, cleaned the bathroom from top to bottom and gave the mirrors a polish as well. With that out of the way, I vacated the flat, went home for the summer holidays and (the following February) I returned, moving into my new room. But in my 2nd year there, I noticed something…

Because while the complex I lived in had been designed as student flats (and titled as such), I began noticing that amongst the fellow residents I saw daily there were fewer students in their late teens or twenties and more people who’d be classed as mature age students- mature aged students with kids- if they were studying at all. Now while I can’t prove anything, I’ve got a suspicion that body corporate wanted to push the uni students out and turn it into a residence aimed at low-income families, figuring they’d be less trouble for the same rent…

If this is what they were doing, I’d have no problem with it. Just be up-front about it, and at least you’d know where you stood. But here’s what happened-

To keep it as short and sweet as I possibly can, let me break it down for you:

a) It came to the end of the year and one of the property managers (we’ll call her Nadine) told me that while I was gone over the summer, the flats may be rented out to other tenants and so there was no guarantee I’d be in the same flat when I returned.

b) I asked where I could store my possessions for the time being, and Nadine said to leave them in the storage space under the flat, accessible through a lockable side-door next to the carport. So away I went, hauling my gear out of my room, downstairs and into this storage space.

c) I was about half way through when Nadine saw me and said I couldn’t leave my stuff there. I tried pointing out this was what she’d told me to do just the day before, but now apparently that wasn’t ok for reasons I’ve forgotten since. Point was, she now said I’d need to move my gear up into the so-called conference room of the complex office building. I say so-called because they never held conferences in there and it didn’t look likely any time soon. It was essentially a vacant room, housing old furniture ready for the dump.

d) So I moved my belongings a second time, from the storage space up to the conference room. But finally, my room was empty- which I proceeded to clean top to bottom just as I’d always done when vacating. I packed the stuff I was taking home into my large grey suitcase, dropped my keys into the slot of the mailbox outside the front office and headed into town, ready to catch the train home early the following morning. At last, my holidays had started and I could relax. Or so I thought…

e) The following afternoon I was sitting back in my comfy seat on the passenger express when my phone buzzed. It was Nadine on the other end and she was irate about the fact my personal belongings now sat there in the conference room. I said that was where she’d told me to put them (sound familiar?) but now *apparently* this had never been discussed. On top of that? She also complained about the state I’d left my room in, claiming it was “unacceptable”. I pointed out that I’d cleaned my room just the same as I’d done the previous year before vacating and nobody had said a thing about it, to which Nadine claimed that hadn’t been left in an acceptable condition either (I have a theory about how this shake-down works but that’s for another time). She said I wouldn’t be allowed back to live there in the new year and, realising it was pointless trying to reason with an unreasonable person, I hung up.

Now, maybe she was right? Maybe I hadn’t left my room in a state deemed to be acceptable from a tenant? But even if that was the case, they had an entire year to say something about it, to say “Look, the condition you left your room in when you vacated wasn’t acceptable and you’ll need to do a better job next time if you want to continue living here”. I would’ve asked for clarification, got a checklist from them and ensured their expectations were met. But they never said a word. Being a lowly STUDENT, I suspect my name had already been marked down, long before that December evening when I vacated the premises…

So the following February (having found a new place just down the street in the interim) I returned to the old premises and began moving my stuff out of the conference room. One of the caretakers (we’ll call her Rosie) saw me as I worked away and said “Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused?” Arguing with a complete idiot is a waste of time, so I brushed her off, saying “I didn’t mean to cause trouble for anybody” and continued my relocation…

If just reading all that frustrated you, then imagine how it was for me! So much trouble, and it all could’ve been avoided with some simple, clear communication on the other sides’ behalf.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, customers aren’t exempt from the curse of bad communication, either.

Story #2: The Client Who Needed To Consult A Dictionary

Years ago I was writing website copy for a client, on behalf of a mutual contact. There was a section they wanted written that was (essentially) a straightforward FAQ section, nothing fancy. I asked the client directly what they were looking for (as you do). They sent me an email with a link to the FAQ section of a company website from the same industry, and he told me to “take this and replicate it”

Replicate: To make an exact copy of, or reproduce.

Check out the definition for yourself. So I replicated the FAQ’s from this other company website, pasted it into a new document for my clients’ web-page and then edited it (where I saw fit) to make it as straightforward and simple to understand as possible. Then I sent it off to the client…

A day or so later, I got an email from the contact who’d introduced me to this client. The client had emailed him, ranting and raving about how what I’d done was “plagiarism” and that my contact should demand a refund on his behalf, etc etc. I told my contact I’d be happy to chat with this guy on the phone and straighten things out, but that request was never followed up.

As far as I’m concerned, in business and in relationships, poor communicators are welcome to go elsewhere. I only have a finite amount of time and energy and I intend to invest both where it’s actually worth the trade-off.

I’m sure you’ve got your own horror stories about people who drove you up the wall and wasted your time/ energy/ money (or even the trifecta) through their poor communication skills- whether a colleague or a client, boss or body corporate. I get it-

That’s why here at Scribe, one of the 5 Guarantees we offer you is clear communication. This means nothing is left to guesswork. When we write a brand new piece of copy or edit existing content, we explain the thinking behind what we do- and ensure that before we start, we’re as clear as possible on what the client’s vision is, what they expect.

From start to finish, we keep you posted every step of the way regarding the progress of your project. Because good communication costs nothing.

So if you want effective copywriting that pulls in new leads, gets clicks, gets new customers AND comes with clear communication? Then contact us today!

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