Communication is the key to successful business – yet all too often communication between businesses can fall at the first hurdle. Sometimes with potentially serious consequences.

A good friend, who chairs his village Parish Council, was told that a recent storm had damaged a tree overhanging one of the approach roads. A branch had broken, snapping a cable as it fell, and was now hanging down into the middle of the road.

He drove out to check for himself what had happened, took a few photographs, and phoned his county Highways department to report the issue.

A conversation…

‘There’s a broken cable, you say?’

‘Yes.’

‘We don’t deal with those. You’ll have to call whoever owns the cable. That’s our policy.’

So he called OpenReach, who were responsible for the cable.

‘There’s a broken branch, you say?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, we don’t deal with trees. It’s company policy.’

At this point he confesses that he slightly lost his cool. ‘It’s dangerous. There’s a broken cable that Highways don’t want to know about, and the branch is a hazard to traffic.’

‘Sorry. Can’t do anything until that branch is sorted out. Like I said, it’s company policy. We’ve had too many problems dealing with trees.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Sorry…’

Communication breakdown – irresistible force and immovable object?

On reflection, my friend could understand the problem. He remembered seeing a crew coming to cut back trees that had grown to a point where they were fouling overhead cables. Doubtless their work led to a flood of calls from angry landowners, with the result that the company had decided not to do tree work at all. Which was logical – but unhelpful…

Luckily, as it turned out, the call handler at OpenReach was ready to go the extra mile, and rang back to say there was an engineer on site. The engineer, too, had gone the extra mile and called in a cherry-picker vehicle to repair the cable. And when my friend revisited the site, the cable had been fixed.

And the branch had been removed.

So – thanks to two people prepared to take the initiative – all was well. But his story did highlight an issue I’ve come across before. I’m reminded, for instance, of those familiar scenes in the early days of railway privatisation. You’d often see a group of people in a mixture of uniforms, suits, and safety gear gathered on a station platform to argue about who, precisely, was responsible for what in dealing with a problem. Sometimes, it would seem, without a satisfactory outcome…

And the conclusion?

It’s great to have logical systems. It’s sensible to protect yourself from unnecessary problems. But not, perhaps, at the cost of leaving clients and potential clients in danger – or simply in a place where no one will take responsibility for a potentially dangerous situation..

After all, good customer service has always involved going the extra mile…

And if you’d like to go the extra mile, you’re welcome to offer me a (virtual) cup of coffee while we have an hour’s consultation. No charge – just call me on 01359 240717 or drop me an email.