Image courtesy of flickr user Christiaan Colen

Communications are failing to meet expectations

People’s expectations have changed. They demand more of companies and government. Responses need to be quick and accurate. There is a drive to hold these organisations to account – what they say they do, they should do. All this is impacting on communications but too often the communications are failing to meet these heightened expectations.

As I began writing this post, details of a report arrived in my inbox. ‘The Customer Journey’ suggests that two-thirds of consumers expect a same-day response to queries and 43% expect a response within an hour. This helps make the point.

Businesses are rightly lauded when then listen and respond and lambasted when they stick their fingers in their ears and try to carry on regardless. The same is true of Government. It is not that the communications are wrong or necessarily lacking, they are just inadequate.

Let’s consider a few examples that I have seen recently:

  1. Local school consultation – a school near us decided to change its admissions criteria. The level of engagement with the local community over the proposed changes was criticised but they did hold a public meeting (with views varying on the tone, content and outcomes!). The school’s final decision was appealed and despite being deemed ‘unfair’ they have pressed ahead. The consultation itself met requirements expected. So we have a clear case of expectations not being met both with the engagement and also the outcomes. Ignoring the failings of the proposed policies has simply angered an otherwise highly supportive local community.
  2. Childcare vouchers – I recently received a letter from the Government about the new childcare vouchers that are being made available. The letter made absolutely no sense and I struggled to understand what the scheme was, whether it was applicable to me and whether I should consider using it. A search online didn’t help either. Again expectations not met.
  3. National Infrastructure Commission – the NIC has set out its response to a recent consultation and, as a colleague recently identified, it sets out a number of inadequate ways in which will engage with the public. Some ‘social research’ is not the same as engagement (although at least it has a Twitter account, following 4 people and tweeting 167 times since joining in March 2016). We know that in the future, the NIC will doubtless talk in glowing terms about its engagement to help justify plans. To prevent howls of outrage then they need to do more now. Again, it’s down to expectations.
  4. Local authorities – too often people’s experience of contacting their local council puts them into a bureaucratic hell. Being pushed from one department to another in the hope a resolution takes time, effort and dedication (and, of course, all in standard work hours). If companies respond promptly and resolves then why can’t councils? People do not have one set of rules for companies and another set of rules for councils. A failure to meet expectations won’t, in this case, lead to services not being used but a lack of engagement (and non-voting). My own borough’s initial carefully worded responses commit to responding in a fixed period but that never happens!
  5. Daily Mail – several circumstances in recent weeks have seen companies under pressure (mainly through social media) about their links to the paper and its headlines around immigration as well as the legal decision on triggering Article 50. The question is posed to companies such as Lego, who had giveaways with the paper, whether this is compatible with their aims as a company. Similarly, Google may say ‘don’t be evil’ but has then come under pressure regarding its tax arrangements. More examples of the reality of expectations.

It could be argued that sometimes expectations are unrealistic but in those cases, it is the job of the communications to help manage them.

This is really a call for communicators to ensure that they understand what their audiences expect of them. This is best done with the use of information rather than pure guess work and should also consider what may happen further down the line as well (which the NIC appears not to have done).

All this applies just as much to political audiences as any other. They have expectations as well…

Image courtesy of flickr user Christiaan Colen

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Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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