In a word: expectations. In two words: uh, expectations.
I had an encounter recently with a customer who had an installation done by one of our best flooring crews. Not only does this crew never get callbacks, but we also regularly get calls from their customers commenting on their remarkable customer service. This particular customer had a couple small issues - things that we were happy to deal with, but I could tell that they wouldn't have been issues if we had nailed the communication before the installation had taken place. A couple simple preparatory questions and comments by us and then the crew could easily have eased all of the concerns about misplaced baseboards and unlocked doors. But we didn't do it, and as a result, a customer was left with a less-than-great taste in her mouth, despite getting a great installation from a great crew. And it wasn't her fault. It was ours.
I had another call today - a site supervisor who was expecting a crew today. What he didn't know is that the crew (another of our A-list crews) had a half day's work to do at a previous job before they would be at his job. Fortunately, the site supervisor called me, and I had the chance to explain, as well as tell him that I was bringing them home early tomorrow for a safety meeting. If it'd happened 2 days in a row, he would've thought my A-list crew was a bunch of deadbeats who can't make it to a job for a full day's work.
I won't say I'm the greatest listener, or the greatest speaker. I'm pretty average at both. However, I've been blessed with an ability to perceive the nuances of communication better than many others. What a lot of people don't realize is that you could say the same identical statement to 12 different people, and you will have said 12 different things.
I'll say that again: You could say the same identical statement to 12 different people, and you will have said 12 different things. That's because you are only 50% of the message. You are a brain and a mouth, and the listener is the ears and another brain. This is why you can tell a joke to your friends and they'll howl, but you can tell the same joke to your spouse, and they'll look at you like an idiot!
There's a hard way and an easy way to get people to see things your way, and I watch poor communicators choose the hard way over and over again. Because they don't understand that communication is like Judo. Use the listeners own perceptions to direct their momentum the way you want it to go.
This works for customers (clients, students, consumers) too. You have an opportunity to tell them exactly what to expect. At the beginning. You can tell them what the standards are, and set the bar in such a way that you can clear it with flying colours. If you don't take the opportunity, and something goes differently than their expectations, guess what? IT'S TOO LATE. Because their perception (not yours) is their reality. And even if it's not true, it's still going to be the story they tell their friends, whether good or bad.
I find myself noticing a few times a day that two people in 'communication' are getting totally different impressions from the same exchange. It makes me want to beat my head against a wall.
Some old stalwarts feel that it's a sign of weakness of character to speak differently to different people. I disagree. I think it's a sign of intuition and savvy. And it sure makes your life easier!