Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

How to Break Communication Barriers in Business

You might build the best mousetraps. You might even deliver the best service. But if in the process your communication style misses the mark, you can negatively affect the way customers feel about your company. In my experience, this happens now more than ever.

We are in a time of unprecedented communication means and methods. The tools make contact so easy…maybe too easy.

As a general contractor, we try to do everything right on the front end, but our business inevitably entails managing a series of problems along the road to a successful project. How these challenges are communicated will at times make or break the customer relationship.

Here is our best practice model for client communications:

  • Communicate problem early and as often as needed.
  • Get to the point quickly.
  • Include the facts and the solutions and deliver them with compassion.
  • Ensure the recipient understands we are looking out for his or her best interest.

Remember that the medium for your message matters: 

Use email sparingly. While email is easier for the sender, it’s not always the best venue for delivering bad news. If you can, there’s nothing more impressive than owning up to setbacks face-to-face. It’s better, but harder. You will earn credence for the effort and, with the help of tone and body language, the problem may not seem so large.

Never, never, never get into an email stream of tennis. Communicate at the lowest appropriate denominator, without bypassing the first responder. This is a narrow trail to walk at times.

Write letters. I still write letters. Depending on the situation, I use corporate, personal corporate or personal letterhead. A polished letter received through the mail produces a feeling unattainable through electronic messaging.

Across mediums, I’m a firm believer that communication barriers are often the barrier to success. By breaking them down, we all succeed.



Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.