How Businesses Communicate

A married couple had an enormous argument and didn’t speak to each other for hours. The husband had an important meeting the next morning and wrote a note to his wife saying: “wake me up tomorrow morning at 6 o’clock.” The next morning he woke up with a start as he saw the suns rays spilling into the room from behind drawn curtains. Looking at his watch, he realized it was 9 a.m. Turning to his wife angrily, he found her side of the bed empty, with a piece of paper on the pillow saying: “Wake up it’s 6 o’clock.”

The English dictionary defines communication as “the imparting or exchanging of information or news.” Sounds quite simple on paper really, until we get to the part where businesses are supposed to communicate with their customers, or where service providers are supposed to communicate with key users of their services to whom they owe a duty of care. While participating in an animated discussion last week about our favorite and not-so-favorite national carrier
Kenya Airways, a regular traveller mentioned that she had completely shifted all her international travel to other airlines. Her reason for this – having formerly been a diehard Kenya Airways customer- was due to poor treatment around lost luggage firstly, and communication secondly. She then proceeded to give an example of a trip from the United States on British Airways, where she was transiting through Heathrow. A hurricane on the east coast of the United States led to flight delays and she arrived at Heathrow with only minutes to spare between changing planes to the Nairobi bound aircraft. She knew, instinctively, that her luggage would very likely not make the tight transfer window that the delayed flight had occasioned.

Arriving at Nairobi’s JKIA she was still optimistic as, with human nature, hope tends to spring eternal. Standing anxiously at the luggage carousel, she saw a British Airways staffer pasting some papers on the rubber mats of the conveyor. Plastered in large sized font was a list of passengers whose bags had been left behind at Heathrow, and informing them to go to the airport counter for further details. The lady traveller was blown away and not by the whistling wind blustering through the gaping hole in the wall where baggage was occasionally regurgitated. She was quite simply amazed that the airline had the presence of mind to alert (cranky, tired and often irritable) passengers before they stood there stupidly awaiting luggage that would never emerge. The airline, in this case, managed her expectations early and reduced the pain of missing luggage by telling her in advance at the highest pain point: the luggage carousel (where one always holds one’s breath without realizing it as they wait and only exhales when one’s bag is spotted, dizzy with relief from oxygen depletion) and assuring her that they knew where it was and when it was expected to be delivered (on the next flight from Heathrow 24 hours later).

No, British Airways is not operating on Oracle version 2030, or SAP version 2020. They are using a system that all airlines use: passengers on aircraft + luggage-in-the-hold = complete flight. Passenger-on-aircraft minus luggage-still-traipsing-about-the-dungeons-of-Heathrow = disaster in waiting at destination. The solution is as simple as it is intuitive really: “the imparting of information or news” also known as communication. I know who else could learn a thing or two about this definition, it would be the dastardly road contractors that purport to dig up roads in our beautiful city, create deviations that defy any Rhino Charge course designer and then mysteriously change the entry and exit points of said deviations every single day at the toss of a coin.

Look, first and foremost put up a few information boards, minimize the writing so as not be distractive to drivers, and show us your view of what the roads will look like when you are done re-arranging the furniture. After all, with humans hope springs eternal. You must have those pictures otherwise how in heaven’s name and on what basis did you win the contract to build? Try and make the pictures in colour, only because it creates a strong visual statement for us when we are crawling in the dust laden traffic jams, clutching at straws of hope that someday, sometime this torture will come to a magnificent end. You see, imparting knowledge or information does not have to be either verbal or written as a picture is worth a thousand words. Place the pictures at a few of the pain points on the venerable journey to hell. Imagine yourself to be Moses, leading the Israelites to the land of milk and honey and using visual imagery to paint a vision that despite 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Promised Land will be found.

Finally, at the bottom of the information boards put an estimated time of completion. I’ll be generous: put the decade rather than the year or the month as it is quite apparent that you will never meet your deadline while a decade gives you at least 10 years of bull crap to play with. By following these few steps you will have completely managed our expectations by painting a vision and equating it to the journey to the Promised Land forty years hereafter.

Communication: verbal, written or painted is critical for the quiet enjoyment of goods, services or infrastructure as it were. Speaking of quiet enjoyment, two deaf men were in a coffee shop discussing their wives. One signs to the other, “Boy was my wife mad at me last night! She went on and on and wouldn’t stop! The other man replied in sign language, “When my wife goes off on me I just don’t listen.” The first man looked at the second quizzically, “How do you do that?” The second man signed back, “It’s easy, I just turn off the light.”
Twitter: @carolmusyoka