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Russian dancer

Consistency in communications: Cross your heart and hope to fly

Thursday, June 10, 2021 @ 10:46 AM | By Evert Akkerman

Evert Akkerman %>
Evert Akkerman
Businesses and service providers usually display statements about service excellence on their sites. Think of companies that sell sports gear, electronics, or barbecues, and of professionals like accountants, lawyers, and HR consultants. They all “offer consistent quality,” “stand behind their product,” “want to understand the client,” “tailor services to each customer’s needs,” and “act as a partner in the client’s success.” Typical values are consistency, accountability, honesty, integrity, and respect. So far so good. However, the reality may be quite different.

If you’re a service provider and want to support your clients, understanding them is key. One of my friends owns a tax services firm. As his practice grew, he decided to engage the services of a staffing agency to bring in accountants for tax season. One of the partners came to his office and gave a presentation about the agency’s process and strong points. All was well until she said this: “It will likely be a difficult search. My guess is that most of the candidates in our database won’t want to just be completing taxes all day long.”

And my friend, with amazing self-control, replied: “My vision is much more than ‘just taxes.’ It’s interacting with clients, educating business owners, preparing schedules, dealing with CRA queries and audits, asking clients a lot of questions, checking spread sheets, analyzing complex data, and, especially, looking for what’s missing. In other words, thinking is required.”

If you’re serious about consistency and integrity, treat everyone the same. Somewhere in the 1990s, my dad attended a sales training event. It was run by an American couple that, reportedly, built one of the first successful e-commerce companies. For a showstopper, they demonstrated the squat dance. Their idea of fun was hauling some poor sap from the audience up on stage and watching them make a fool of themselves by falling flat on their face or ending up in emerg. This act worked great until they picked the wrong guy from my dad’s group. It turned out that this man’s grandparents had been Russian immigrants and taught him this dance. By giving a rousing performance with folded arms and perfect kicks, he relegated the two hosts to a sideshow.

A third key element is respect. Don’t talk down to people or assume your customers are a bunch of low-information hicks. I’m a runner, and two years ago I bought some miracle powder mix that supposedly boosted performance and recovery. Like, you’d run 20 kilometres, have a cup of the stuff, and you’d be good for another 20. It could have been hot air from marketing, but I figured it was worth a try. The container looked impressive, but I was in for a surprise when I opened it: a lot of air. I sent an e-mail to the powder factory, sort of like this: “Acting on a tip from a friend, I bought your miracle powder the other day. When I opened the container, I noticed that it was less than two-thirds full. Was this a production error or is this the standard fill?”

It’s important to note that I sent this inquiry at 2:29 p.m. As a fully credible testament to their world-class typing skills, I received a reply at 2:33 p.m.

As follows: “Hi Evert, thank you for reaching out. Our powders settle and compress from the minute they are made until they safely arrive to your home. With different equipment, as well as shipping methods, the powder settles and compresses between the time when it gets made to when it arrives to your kitchen counter. You may have experienced something similar with flour. Have you ever noticed when baking that a level cup of flour occupies much more space after you sift it? Trying to put sifted flour back into the cup is very challenging. At our manufacturing facilities, our protein is very fluffy when it goes into the tub. But by the time it makes it to your counter, it settles and compresses. Because of different ingredients, some of our products compress more than others. But you can rest assured each serving provides the nutrition listed in the nutrition facts panel.”

I guess any corporate communications department can say whatever and expect the customer to buy it. I’m willing to believe that some settling occurs, but not that much.

Anyway, this gave me an idea in terms of environmental sustainability, which they promoted on their website alongside their typing skills. I responded as follows: “Hi Bob, your reply inspired me — you may have an opportunity here to reduce your carbon footprint through decreased material usage. Would there be a way to way for the powder to settle at the tail end of the production process, or even find a way to accelerate the settling before you package, so that you can use smaller containers? This would generate additional benefits in terms of storage, transportation, and shelf space.”

Apparently, their communications department didn’t have a canned answer to that. There’s an old saying that you can win the debate and lose the customer. In the situations above, the outcomes were that my friend the accountant passed on the opportunity, my dad didn’t buy the book, and I never bought the mix again.

Evert Akkerman is an HR professional based out of Newmarket, Ont., and founder of XNL HR. He can be reached at

Photo credit / Valterzenga1980 ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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