Many of us can relate to the recent Citi commercial where the homeowner asks his contractor how much longer their building project will take to complete. The contractor starts in on a longwinded, complicated answer. The camera then pans to the homeowner who says, “I’ll nod in agreement so my wife thinks I understand what you’re saying.”
Two people speaking different languages—it’s a communication problem we’ve all encountered. And, in the glass industry, it’s a problem that’s growing increasingly common.
In the aggressive push to ensure glass’ place on and in buildings, product offerings have become more complex. Glass is available in larger sizes, has exceptional solar and insulating capabilities and more advanced coatings. It can be bent, have more holes drilled in it, serve as a display screen and be installed in a wide range of fenestration systems. Even code-driven products, like fire-rated glazing, can offer similar performance benefits while meeting stringent fire and life safety criteria.
The challenge facing the glazing industry is how to translate these innovations into clear design speak and project plans. For example, the performance data that sets a product apart from its competition won’t show an architect how they’ve landed on a solution that achieves both their desired aesthetic and project goals. Industry speak also won’t show a contractor how the incremental cost increase of an enhanced product is worth the added safety, energy savings and simplified maintenance. And, the bottom line is that what customers don’t understand, they don’t buy.
So, how can we make sure we are speaking the same language as our customers? One of the first steps is to take the time to listen.
Your customers may not be an expert in your business, but they’re an expert in their own. Whether they’re an architect, contractor or building owner, they have a way of talking about their business, design goals, services and needs. Find out how they describe their products, refer to competitors and prefer to deliver value. Go to their industry events and learn what challenges they are talking about. Join LinkedIn groups relevant to their business and monitor their conversations. Or, read about common issues in industry publications and blogs.
As you spend time engaging with and learning about your customers, they will teach you how to speak their language. You’ll identify how to approach problems from their perspective and adapt your communication plan. This will make it easier for you to talk about who your company is and what your product does—in your customers’ language.
When you can, practice what you learn. You can’t learn a new language if you don’t use it. I bet many of you – like me – can’t speak more than a few words of the foreign language you studied in high school because you didn’t use it in your daily life. So, make sure you take the time to “talk shop” with your customers. You will speak their language better, and they will remember the time you took to get to know their business. You will also be better equipped to make product or design recommendations that help your help product get closer to their design and performance goals if you earn the job down the road.
Jeff Razwick is the president of Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. He writes frequently about the design and specification of glazing for institutional and commercial buildings, and is a past chair of the Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Fire-Rated Glazing Council (FRGC). Contact him at 800/426-0279.
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.