Improving your internal communication

Lucas Deal

May 2, 2013

You know strong communication channels are necessary for dealing with your customers.

But if you’ve ever had to chase down an employee at closing time for info about a customer parts order or service repair, you know strong communication is necessary within your business, too.

Your dealership will never reach maximum efficiency unless all of your employees are on the same page.

“Communication is one of the most misunderstood aspects of business,” says Kyle Treadway, president at Kenworth Sales Company. “I think we all grossly underestimate how important it is.”

To get everyone at your location working together, it’s important to encourage employees to be vocal and create and sustain strong communication platforms in your business.

Build personal relationships

A vital step to improving communication within your dealership is assembling a staff that’s comfortable working together and willing to communicate.

Most individuals are shy or reserved when interacting with new people — and this is just as true in your business as it is anywhere. A new employee who wasn’t properly introduced to everyone in your organization may not feel confident when interacting with associates in other departments, which can stifle or reduce effective communication.

If they don’t feel like they know whom to contact with a question, they may not contact anyone at all. You don’t want that.

And this isn’t just a risk associated with new employees.

Your sales and counter staff communicate with your customers more than anyone else in your business. Your service technicians know those customers’ vehicles. But unless both sides interact freely with each other, information about your customers and their needs can slip through the cracks.

You don’t want that, either.

“Staff members that are comfortable working together will get more work done,” says Dick Witcher, CEO at Minuteman Trucks and current ATD chairman.

Team-building events, staff outings and out-of-office activities are all good ways to improve rapport. The more time your employees have to interact with each other in stress-free situations, the more at ease they will be to communicate when it counts.

Department meetings

Active and regularly scheduled department meetings are another excellent way to improve in-house communication.

“I still think the best form [of communication] is the good old department meeting,” says Treadway.

Bringing members of a specific area of your business together for a meeting can eliminate some of the reticence commonly seen at a full-staff meeting. People are more willing to interact in a smaller, conversational setting, especially when discussing their responsibilities with associates.

Witcher says Minuteman Trucks schedules off-site lunch meetings for managers a couple times a month. This informal setting stimulates conversation and positive discussion, he says.

“[Our employees] like the ability to have time and space to raise ideas they want to discuss,” Witcher says.

During any meeting, it’s a good idea for your management team to have a list of topics it wants to address with each specific team. Approach those topics first, and follow by opening up the discussion to employee requests, concerns or questions. Employees will speak up if they feel management values what they have to say, Treadway says.

Take Advantage of Technology

Other methods with which you can communicate with your employees also have improved dramatically in recent years. It’s not a bad idea to look into the technology available for improving business communication and find some that work at your dealership.

The online world provides a lot of options.

Witcher says Minuteman Trucks uses an online portal to push out company information to employees. This technology allows efficient and immediate contact with Minuteman’s entire staff, and allows back and forth communication between employees and management.

Employees can check the site in minutes to get answers to questions that previously took much longer, keeping them at their workstation and functioning efficiently.

“It provides them access to all types of information and gives them what they are looking for,” he says.

Believe it or not, blogging is another way for you to improve your communication structure.

If that sounds unrealistic, consider this example: You and your management team make a fundamental change to the daily operations of your dealership. You want to get that information out as fast as possible; and calling a company-wide meeting isn’t going to happen. Not on that day.

By writing a blog post and emailing it — or posting it in an online portal — you can give your employees a quick overview of the change you’ve made. You can tell them how things are different and who they need to contact for more information. Employees want to know how they fit into the big picture. This is a way to show them.

Social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook are other ways to get out this information, as is Yammer, a social networking site designed specifically for businesses.

There are non-Internet options, too.

Four-digit phone extension packages allow you to easily link all of your locations under one phone network, eliminating long-distance calls and general landing numbers. If you want to reach your location three states over, you no longer have to 10-digit dial. Employees appreciate that ease of access.

Any system that motivates your employees to interact is a good thing.

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