Before I was an honorary Geordie, I lived in Weoley Castle, Birmingham for 35+ years.
My then local Police force, Birmingham South Police, announced that they were going to be using the social networking site, Twitter and held a 24 Hour Tweet-a-thon to promote the fact. that they would now be posting Tweets throughout the day to highlight what the force was doing that day in the area.
As I followed the Tweet-a-thon, I saw reports throughout the day of crackdowns on crime including drug busts, road traffic accidents, suspicious activity reported by members of the general public and even a lost puppy – all of which were followed up later on with news of how the incident was resolved (don’t worry, the puppy was found, safe and sound!)
The Tweets were a fascinating insight into what my local police force actually did on a day-to-day basis.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only person who thought this – the Birmingham South Police Twitter account shot up to over 1000 followers throughout the day, and for those not using Twitter, there was also a Birmingham South Police Facebook Page.
Choosing what we communicate and how
I know I’m not the only person who has at times bemoaned the fact that it “feels” there is never a Police officer around when you want one. I’ve heard this same complaint from neighbours and friends.
At the time of the Tweet-a-thon the Home Office had announced that crime figures had fallen 8% in the last Quarter, but this fact didn’t bring me any comfort or make me feel any safer.
Why is that? Because most people don’t relate to statistics, and instead focus on how they actually “feel” based on what they observe.
I spoke to lots of friends and neighbours who had followed Birmingham South Police’s 24 hour Tweet-a-thon, and without fail every one of them said something along the lines of: “I had no idea of how much the Police do every day!”
From these conversations, I felt a sense of reassurance and faith in the local police force that I hadn’t noticed before. People clearly liked knowing what was happening locally – whether it directly affected them or not.
This was a powerful lesson for me which demonstrated how not important to think about not only what we communicate, but how we communicate it.
Giving people the opportunity to engage
The bottom line is – it’s all about communication, both giving people the opportunity to engage with you if they choose to do so, acknowledging them, and keeping people “in the loop”.
When I ran an MSP, I became very aware of the fact that we’d take clients on – it was typically when they’d been let down by other IT providers. Their infrastructure was in a shambles due to lack of maintenance, and IT was causing lost time and money on a day-to-day basis for their business.
Once we’d stabilised the situation with proactive monitoring and maintenance, within months the client would often get to the point where they rarely needed to call upon our services to resolve problems – simply because the problems had ceased to exist.
It’s at this stage that they started to question why they were paying for our services – after all, everything was now OK, right?
It dawned on me that it wasn’t enough to fix problems and proactively prevent others. The businesses we worked with had to be made aware of what we were doing for them, and how it helped them.
Changing the way you communicate
We started sending out daily reports, weekly summaries, and decision makers received monthly executive summaries.
On quiet days, we sent engineers to site to resolve problems that could easily be dealt with remotely to demonstrate that we weren’t just a voice the end of a telephone. We regularly met with clients for business reviews – not just when there was a problem and any changes, such as upgrades and patches, were notified to the client in advance, along with reasons and timescales. Requests for support were followed up with regular emails and phone calls, both during and after.
This reduced (and almost eliminated!) the number of times that Managed Service clients asked us that dreaded question… “What is it we are paying you for?”
How well are you communicating?
It doesn’t just apply to Service Delivery either. Ask yourself:
- Do your clients know about all the products and services you provide?
- Do your partners and allies know about your latest successes?
- Do your prospective clients really know that you can help them with their pain points?
Once we changed how we communicated with our MSP clients, the only complaint we ever had was that we “over-communicated”, and that’s a complaint much easier to deal with than having to justify your continued existence to a client during a budget cut.
The Twitter experiment by Birmingham South Police was a huge success – they reassured around 1,000 local residents (effectively, their “clients”) who felt connected and acknowledged by their local police force.
It’s an experiment that many of us in all walks of business and life could learn from.