Government agencies spend a lot of time and money communicating the right messages to citizens. Customer service representatives at call centers have scripts and FAQs to work from.
Any letter sent to citizens is carefully considered to ensure it’s clear and easy to understand. You think hard about the messages you send. Make sure you’re also thinking about the times that you don’t communicate — and the messages your silence sends — which might be just as strong, if not stronger.
Absence of communication sends a clear message, and it’s probably not one you want your citizens to receive.
Here are three times that it’s particularly important to communicate actively, instead of letting your silence speak for you:
When There’s Change Coming
You’ve probably figured this one out. When something’s going to happen — disbursement checks are going to be replaced with payment cards, or the eligibility guidelines for an assistance program are about to change — your citizens need to know as soon as possible. Make it clear whether or not they need to take action on what you’re telling them. Maybe they don’t. But even if there isn’t anything for them to do right away, they may need time to prepare or adapt. Your proactive communication gives them that time.
When There’s Bad News
No one likes to hear bad news, of course. And no one really likes to deliver it. But the only thing worse than bad news in advance is a bad surprise when something negative happens with no advance warning. Are your office hours getting shorter? Is a successful pilot program ending? Will there be a charge for a service that was previously available for free? Get the word out. It may be painful, but the alternative is probably worse.
When There’s No News
This might be the most counterintuitive time to communicate. It might seem like it’s not a good time to reach out if you don’t know exactly what’s happening. If someone has a question or application in process and the answer is binary — either they will get approval or they won’t — it might seem like you don’t need to provide any more information. But if there’s a way to let someone know where they are in the process, and when they can expect a firm answer one way or the other, it’s a good idea to do it. Knowing that their request hasn’t been lost and isn’t being ignored is meaningful. (It also makes people less likely to barrage your office with phone calls every day asking for updates, so everyone benefits.)