Society is more communication crazy than ever, and our technology is responsible for this, of course. We live in a culture in which everyone seems to talking on a cellphone; checking and responding to e-mail on their Blackberry, laptop or phone; listening to tunes on an IPOD; or interacting with one or more of the seemingly billion devices that are used to keep us in constant contact.
This leads me to my point, which is that as consumers of services, we desire (perhaps demand) to be kept informed of the status of the service being provided to us. We want to know when the service is going to be performed, how long it's going to take, how much it costs, what's being done about problems with the service, and so on.
When we don't get the answers to these questions in a timely fashion, we become frustrated. The harder we work to obtain answers or—if the answers are not satisfactory—the more angry and frustrated we become—to the point that even if the service has been successfully provided, its value is greatly diminished—it might even be considered a failure.
There is a lesson to be learned here. If we are service providers, the more we communicate about the service—before, during, and after its delivery—the more positively the service will be received. This even works if you are failing in some capacity to provide the service in the expected way. It is better to own up to a failure and say what is being done to rectify it than it is to stay quiet about it. In other words, you can get away with less than 100% stellar performance so long as you keep the lines of communication open. People will generally cut you some slack so long as you are open and honest with them.
However, failing to communicate, especially when you are not performing well, magnifies your issues and can completely blow them out of proportion.
Obviously there is a limit to everyone's patience when it comes to poor performance, no matter how much you communicate, particularly if poor performance is the norm, but you might be amazed at how far the limits can be stretched.
How does this translate to IT? We unfortunately tend to try to be the strong, silent type when it comes to our work when, in fact; we need to be exactly the opposite. We should be masters at communicating during all facets of our service provision, from inception to delivery of our service and them some!
There should be no doubts by the customer regarding our service. We should be clear and communicate what we know, even if that means communicating that we do not know anything.
While the personal touch is always best, the form of communication can vary so long as it is truly informative. Voice messages, e-mail, system prompts, even paper is acceptable so long as it communicates something meaningful. You really do want to avoid having your customer say, No S%#t Sherlock, tell me something I don't already know.
While I won't go into numerous examples of how you should communicate, if you stop and think about it, you will probably come up with dozens upon dozens of ways in which you should be communicating better.
And if you are still stuck after pondering for awhile, ask your customers; I'm sure they wont be shy in letting you know exactly how they feel.