Being "Susan Boyled" is the term I'm now using to describe how a person's initial expectations and assumptions can be seriously challenged as they learn more about a situation or a person. It refers to British singer Susan Boyle's first appearance on a UK talent show when she became an overnight sensation.
This past week I have been doing market research for a national PR campaign. I've been observing how staff in two cities deal with customers. I sat in on a number of customer interactions and saw at first hand the level of pre-existing knowledge customers had, and how staff went about explaining what are often complex, sometimes emotional transactions. In all cases I was impressed by the approach taken by the customers and staff I saw.
So this week's experience has reminded me about two valuable communications lessons:
- Sure, you can read market research studies and speak to management but nothing provides better insights than actually watching "stuff happening on the ground". This is blatantly obvious but how many of us routinely "travel to the communications pointy end" to ensure what we are doing is actually helping our staff and customers.
- Before this week I made certain assumptions about the websites, brochures and other communications products that support customer interactions. What I saw has now given me the opportunity to pause and review how we communicate complex issues.
It's always good communications practice, no matter how senior you are, to regularly challenge your own assumptions and the advice you give others. And when challenged by a new approach, refrain from saying "we've tried that before and it didn't work" without reflecting on why an idea may have previously failed and why it might just succeed as circumstances change.
If you often travel to the communications pointy end you'll rarely be "Susan Boyled".