I am currently working on a larger paper trying to bridge the gap between interpersonal communications and business communications. My main stance is that if businesses treat all communication like interpersonal communication we can build better and more positive relationships. I am still working through the research but I wanted to share a bit with you as I am working on it. I will try to release the full paper when finished. This particular section is focusing on our relationships with our customers and clients and has been edited to speak to the blog audience.
Most often we think of interpersonal relationships as existing between two individuals. Most businesses however interact with their customers every single day. These interpersonal relationships can exist between businesses (or those representing it) and their customers. I believe that for small businesses to communicate excellently they create a social world with their customers.
Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM), which I have introduced here before, claims that our social worlds are co-created through communication with one another (Pearce & Pearce, 2000). CMM is considered a macro theory, looking interpersonal communication as a whole rather than specific communication instances.
CMM is traditionally applied to person to person interpersonal communication. In 1996 however a group known as the Public Dialogue Consortium (PDC) approached the city of Cupertino, CA to incorporate a more productive form of communication. Their goal was to apply this to the most important community issue, which was identified as the city’s rapid change in ethnic composition (Pearce & Pearce, 2000). I believe this case study is a clear example of how CMM can function between an organization and its customers.
To understand how CMM can be applied to small businesses and organizations I want to look at two main findings of the Cupertino project with interactions between my own business and its customers.
First, the primary goal of the Cupertino project was a focus on creating conversations. To do this they took a communication perspective which consist of “viewing the events and objects of the social world as made.” (Pearce & Pearce, 2000, pg 408). This focus on creating conversations allowed them to later move the people to action.
In my current business we do training events and consulting projects for medium to large companies in the state. We do regular marketing activities such as email marketing and direct mail. The vast majority of people who respond to our marketing campaigns are companies that we have engaged in personal conversations with during the past year. As a result we have shifted the marketing approach to establish personal communication first and then follow with traditional marketing.
Secondly they created the means for relationships to form. PDC encouraged the city to create a new communication architecture. The city government began to participate “in conversations about residents’ concerns, their visions for the future, and the actions (to bring) desired futures” (Pearce & Pearce, 2000, pg 409). This allowed the city government to create a positive social world which both groups co-created.
Recently our organization introduced a new training service to our clients. We waited until we launched the service to tell clients about it. We held the first training event for it in November 2010 and we experienced a record low turnout for a new service. When promoting the event I informally questioned a few clients about why they were not interested. The two main responses I got were “it doesn’t match our company’s direction” and “it does not address our current business problems”.
What does this mean to business?
In the case example I showed some of the results of the Cupertino project and compared that with recent activities that I have experienced in my own business. I feel that the Cupertino project provides a bridge between understanding CMM as person to person and business to person. From studying this case I have developed two main findings.
First, by focusing on creating conversations and relationships with customers they are more likely to be compelled to action. With the Cupertino project engaging the citizens in conversation early the residents “saw a model for and experienced talking productively with members of other ethnic groups” (Pearce & Pearce, 2000, pg 409). In my own organization having conversations first with customers allows a discussion about how our services fit into their business model. This is not achieved well by mass marketing because it is not individualized to each company the way a conversation can be.
Second co-creating the conversation allows for the best possible product. In the Cupertino project they were able to listen to the citizens and hear their concerns and visions for the future. This in turn lead to the city leaders identifying various political processes that “were insufficient for most vexing issues” (Pearce & Pearce, 2000, pg 409). In the example of my business we rolled out a product without first having conversations with our customers to see if the new product was useful to them. As a result we wasted time and money on solely creating a product that our customers did not need.
For small businesses to engage in excellent communication with their customers they must co-create a social reality with them. Organizations that co-create their relationship with their customers in turn create the best outcome for both the business and the customer.