Communication. The word seems easy. The concept seems simple. Yet, this seems to be one of the largest challenges Kelowna faces.

A few weeks ago, I attended a business-networking event, that is, people attending specifically wanting to meet others.  After collecting 38 business cards, I woke up the next day, cracked my knuckles and got to work: I wrote introductory emails, tailored to each conversation I had the night before.  Two days after sending the emails, I had only received three replies.  A week later, there were no additional replies.  An 8% response rate from a group of people interested in networking is concerning and points to a larger issue (communication) in Kelowna.

We all love Kelowna; it’s a friendly beautiful city with ever growing opportunities.  Over the years, I have witnessed so much growth and can see the future potential is massive.  As Kelowna evolves, it’s bringing residents more choice, variety, and services to meet their needs and interest.

However, with growth comes competition for local business. Bigger businesses, younger demographics, and technology have all contributed to consumer’s expectation for a faster response and customized service.  If local businesses want to survive they must become more attentive to customer needs and communication.

In the past, generating repeat business required far less effort as competition was limited.  This is no longer the case.  Almost every industry has a multitude of options to choose from.  Inevitably, customers will choose to spend their money with businesses that are responsive and engage them.  Local businesses can no longer rely on their past reputation or word of mouth.  Now, it’s all about establishing customer relationships. The first step to build this relationship is to respond promptly. 

Getting back to my business networking experience, by delaying or not replying to customer communication, it sends a clear message that you are not interested in the customer relationship, whether this is the intent or not.  When texts, emails, or calls go unanswered, there’s a high probability that potential customers will formulate a negative opinion about doing business with you.  Therefore, the unintended consequence of inaction or delay not only results in a loss of business but it can negatively impact your image as they will tell others about the perceived lack of interest.

People crave interactivity and clarity.  Customer loyalty is won by businesses who engage with their customers.  It’s become a necessity for businesses to be responsive to customer inquiries. Taking this concept of communication one step further, a reply is simply not enough.  By providing a specific action for instance, “I will get back to you by “x” vs   ” I will get back to you” provides clarity.  Using words like ‘asap’, ‘soon’ or ‘in a bit’ can be ambiguous and have different meanings to different people.  A reference to ‘asap’ may be interpreted as a few hours and cause the customer to move onto the competition.  If you told someone you would get it touch with them, do it!  Earn their trust by re-affirming your intent to assist them in any way you can. 

The days of opening your door and people walking in simply because the door is open are closing.  The competition will be eager to win over customers by responding to their needs. 

This is the new paradigm: Communication or die.  Local business must be responsive in order to thrive.

Chris Kotscha

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