We had an event the other week where customer experience experts told us what they’d learnt about changing the language of their CX. (Yes, we know the jargon.) They were Jorge Mascarenhas from O2, Jess Poore from British Gas and Shelagh Martin from HSBC, since you ask.
If you weren’t there (and most people in the world weren’t), here are a few of their pearls of wisdom. Think of them like ‘Goals of the Month’ on Match of the Day.
1. To change your language externally, you need to change it internally. So don’t talk about ‘retention’; talk about ‘customers staying with us’. Get HR and internal comms bought in to really change the language of your culture.
2. Map out how your customers feel at different points in your journey. And tune your language to match. Split test your writing, and see when people want you to fall over yourself to be helpful – and when they just want the facts.
3. The last conversation you had with a brand shapes what you think of that brand, even if it’s on Twitter, or through a bill. And all of those moments add up to a good or bad experience.
4. The right language can win you fans in a crisis. When O2’s network went down, their customers actually got behind the O2 social media team because they handled so many grumpy customers in a genuine way, rather than just spitting out stock phrases.
5. To simplify your customer comms, you need to simplify the processes that sit behind them. That said, you can make even a complicated process feel easier by explaining it really clearly.
6. Language can help make your CX more efficient, or more empathetic, or more distinctive, or more consistent. Or all four. But be clear what you’re trying to achieve at the beginning.
7. Measure. Measure. Measure. Look at things like response rates and volumes of complaints to see the effect you’re having.
As our resident HR expert, I’m really interested in the rise of tools like Textio. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a system that, among other things, analyses your language to point out where you’ve slipped into jargon or used words with a certain gender bias. It’s fascinating stuff, and it’s particularly popular with recruiters who want to write clear, gender-neutral job ads.
You might wonder why I’m writing about it – after all, it probably sounds like Textio should be one of our competitors. But it’s not quite as simple as that. As clever as these AI tools are, they’ll always have limits. They give you interesting data, but they’re not pretending to replace living, breathing writers.
To make sure it stays that way, I think there are a few things recruiters can do to stay ahead of the robots.
Think like a robot…
Textio describes itself as a ‘learning system’. That’s because it bases its analysis on job ads and descriptions that are online right now. So, the feedback it gives you today won’t necessarily be the same analysis it gives you in six months or two years from now. That’s something writers could all learn from.
Rather than assuming you know what jobseekers want to hear just because your ads have worked well in the past, immerse yourself in your ideal candidate’s language. What do they read? What do they listen to? Talk to your newest recruits: find out what they care about, what challenges them, what inspires them. Don’t let your language leave you behind.
…but use some writerly common sense, too
The good thing about analysing writing as a writer rather than as a robot is that you can filter the sense from the nonsense. You understand nuance in a way a robot can’t. Do you remember Microsoft’s attempt at creating an AI chat bot? It drew its content from real online chats, and it took about 24 hours for the thing to become so racist and genocidal that Microsoft had to take it offline.
As a human writer, you can read something and check it all hangs together properly, and feels consistent. Don’t just stitch together old copy-and-pasted paragraphs that have done quite well in the past. A robot could do that. You can do better.
Write the job ads only your company could write
Neil Gaiman once advised aspiring authors to ‘start telling the stories only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you, and there’ll always be smarter writers than you […] but you are the only you.’
The same thing goes for job ads. There’ll always be bigger companies out there, or companies that have won more awards, but pretending to be the same as them isn’t the answer. If you try to sound like Google, and you hire people who really want to work for Google, they’ll probably leave you at some point to join Google.
Instead, if you want your company and the role you’re recruiting for to stand out, then write about things the robots can’t know and your competitors can’t copy. What stories can you tell about your culture, your team, or what makes your role completely different from anything else?
It’s not just the content of your message; it’s also the tone that’s going to set you apart. In the days before Innocent Drinks, no one sounded like Innocent. Now, friendly chit-chatty brands are ten-a-penny and easy to copy. But they’re hard for a candidate to choose between.
So recruiters, it’s over to you. If you want to bring the best possible candidates into your business, don’t let AI do all the work for you. Remember, if you can develop a genuinely distinctive tone that matches your culture, you’re always going to be on to a winner. And that, for now at least, is something the robots simply can’t do.
When we were watching the US presidential debates last week (no, don’t get us started), we spotted something: Donald Trump is great at naming. Bear with us.
Right through his campaign, he’s managed to ‘brand’ his opponents with what he wants us to think about them. And he’s done two things we often recommend to our clients: first, he’s found a recognisably Trumpy pattern; and second, he’s stuck to it, using them again and again.
Brands can do this trick too. Ikea’s names are beautifully, well, Ikeaish. They don’t tell you much about the products, but if you see Fjellse, Nornäs or Oppland on a big, brown cardboard box, who else is it going to be?
Apple have iPod, iPad, iTunes and so on. Now, that system’s actually not that unique (look at BBC iPlayer) or interesting, but they’ve stuck to it so relentlessly that the pattern has muscled its way into our collective subconscious.
So, make your naming system work this hard. It’s powerful. It’s tremendously powerful, believe me.