Sidestep Two Simple Communication Follies

July 6, 2010

Miscommunication, my friends, can lead to embarrassing results. While writing for my college newspaper, I found myself covering the landfall of hurricane Katrina (from afar). The story, the focus of the front page, quoted speculation from experts that Katrina could be the most costly hurricane in United States history.

“Early estimates,” I wrote, “place costs upwards of $25 dollars.”

Go ahead, read that again. Indeed, it says that the natural disaster would cost no more than a Jackson and a Lincoln.

Here’s a quick lesson in AP style for you. Monetary amounts should always be indicated by the $ symbol in front of the dollar value. Originally, my sentence read “$25 billion dollars.” The word “dollars” in that sentence is redundant and should be removed. It should correctly read “$25 billion.”

Can you guess what might have happened?

Another editor likely shouted out, “Fix this now, now, now!” and, in the rush to change, it was fixed incorrectly with the wrong word wiped off the page.

There are two lessons I take away from that experience:

  1. Make sure you understand what someone is asking for so it can be done correctly.
  2. Always double check before you publish.

How does this translate to your business?

Avoid miscommunication before it happens

Had someone more clearly said “Remove ‘dollars’ from the sentence,” I probably wouldn’t have a story to tell today.

Similar small mistakes can happen when requesting a change or update to a website, too. When contacting your development team, strive to be as clear as possible so they can get the change right.

You don’t need to know all the technical terms; we’ll be able to get your gist as long as you can describe your end goal clearly and in detail.

If you’re reporting a problem with your site, communicate everything you can—what browser did you see it in? Does it happen every time you visit? What page or pages does the problem occur on?

In turn, expect that your development team may need to get back in touch with you before we begin to make sure we’ve understood the request and can execute a fix properly. Diving into a task without clarifying can be costly and frustrating for both parties.

Check what’s live on your site after you post it

Did developers make a change to your site? Review it to double check that you like the end result. We test all of our work after we complete it, but occasionally we may miss something. We want to do what’s right for you so if something is strange, please let us know.

If you can make updates to your own site (like many Digett clients, using the Drupal content management system), after you publish a change, check it out on the live page while logged out, like your users will be.

It’s common sense, but easy to forget. Those extra few seconds to check can sometimes catch embarrassing mistakes ... like $25 hurricanes.