The UK’s third favourite word, as of 21st September 1980.
How do I know that? Well, a while back I bought a copy of The King’s English for 50p at a secondhand bookshop and today, out fluttered a newspaper cutting. And it was all about words. Beautiful words.
Since it’s World Book Day (and since, sometimes, we just like to write about our love of language), I thought I’d share my treasured find with all our fellow word nerds out there.
The most beautiful English words (according to Sunday Times readers in 1980)
- Melody and velvet (it was a tie for the top spot)
Just reading those words transports me to a more a peaceful place in a time gone past.
The article then gives some example lists from specific readers.
Lady Katherine Asquith went with ivory, gazebo, syllabub, froth, vacillate, butterfly, phylloxera, hummock, mannerism and echo.
Six-year-old Natasha Henley chose beautiful, jewellery, Emma (her sister), ballet, necklace, dress, garden, bird, fairy and flower.
At the end, the journalist thanks the contributors, and says: ‘the sound, shape and sense of your words continue to flood the mind with their beauty’.
My question to you is, what words flood your mind with their beauty?
Comment below, or let us know on Twitter. And a very happy World Book Day to you all.
“Good afternoon, you have reached Any Bank customer service. How may I be of assistance?”
You’ve probably heard that greeting, or something like it, a hundred times. Now compare this:
“Hi, and thanks for calling Any Bank. My name is Bob. How can I help you?”
I know which person I’d rather speak to. And if I’m calling my bank, which in all of its marketing campaigns uses lovely, straightforward language to proclaim how it’s making banking easier, I’d expect the friendlier, more helpful greeting.
Bridging the voice gap
To a customer, the person on the other end of the phone or email is your brand in that moment. So why is there so often a disconnect between the voice of marketing and the voice of customer service?
It’s a question that came up at the Consero CX Forum in Florida last week, where everyone from banks to health food brands said they’re facing similar challenges.
Here are our tips for helping your customer service teams stay on brand, even when they’re on the spot.
1.Take your brand guidelines, and make them work for customer service.
When you’re answering calls and emails from unhappy customers all day, a brand guide telling you how to write a fun ad headline isn’t exactly useful. Take a look at your brand voice guidelines and make sure they take customer service into account – especially the more difficult conversations, when people are more likely to fall back on formal language. Because those are the moments that can reinforce your brand and what you stand for.
2.That goes for training, too.
When clients come to us for a brand voice, they usually prioritize brand and marcomms teams when it comes to training people on how to apply it. But your people on the frontline are the ultimate ambassadors of your brand, often during the real make-or-break moments. To give your customers a consistent experience, your training should cover everyone who’s representing you.
3.Take the robot out of the humans
One speaker at the conference, while talking about AI in customer service, said it’s not about replacing humans in contact centers with robots, but instead ‘taking the robot out of the humans’. That’s because AI can give your teams richer context to be able to have more natural, more meaningful conversations with customers. So see it as a tool, not a threat.
4.Help them see the grey.
Whether you’re selling insurance, flights, or video games, black-and-white policies can never cover every scenario where something goes wrong. By giving your team parameters or a framework for their conversations, you empower them to give your customers a better experience, rather than recite a rule book. In other words, ‘help them see the grey’, as one conference speaker so eloquently put it.
5.If you have to script something, make it conversational.
Of course, some things – like legal disclaimers in heavily regulated industries – will still need to be scripted. In those cases, try to make the language as natural as possible. For example, there’s no reason why you have to say “You may invest in an alternate portfolio if you choose to make additional contributions” when this says exactly the same thing: “If you’d like to make any extra contributions, you can invest in a different portfolio.”
And give your representatives some options so they don’t get tired of reading the same thing over and over again – because it’ll show.
Want to hear more? We’ll be at The Customer Experience Conference in London next week, where our Emma will be telling brands why their customers aren’t listening (and what they can do about it).
Most of the time. Maybe. But what if you only do business through words? Words on your website. On your apps. And in the customer service messages you send. Then, the only way anyone can take action is if your words are clear and quick to grasp. That’s why we’ve been saying for years that...
Language is your customer experience
Some brands invest massively in what they think are their most important assets. Which are usually this year’s colour palette, some edgy Tube ads, a brand purpose workshop with a blank cheque for breakfast brioche, and maybe even some tone of voice principles. But this means nothing if you don’t practise what you preach.
The challenge is to stay true to your brand when you’re sending customers to your mobile app, help centres, error messages, T&Cs, out of offices, and everywhere else. And it’s especially tough when you have to give bad news. Can you honestly say you have a consistent voice in those channels – one that drives your customers to behave how you’d like them to?
Not many businesses can. Which is a shame, because changing the words you use is pretty cheap and easy to do. If you’d like to hear more, our Emma will be on stage at The Customer Experience Conference in London on 26th February talking about the brands who use their words wisely to do customer experience well.
PS On a Wikipedia wander this week, we learned that the old motto for County Dublin was ‘Beart do réir ár mbriathar’. In English, that’s ‘actions that match our words’. We like it more than ‘actions speak louder’, and we think more people in charge of UX should start giving their actions and words some more equal clout.
Image by Mike Stokoe
Chances are you might be eyeing up a smart speaker in the Black Friday sales. YouGov have said one in ten people now have a speaker like Amazon Echo or Google Home in their pad, up from one in 20 last year.
I do quite like the idea of being able to summon a Jimi Hendrix solo to my kitchen at the drop of a (velvet, wide-brimmed) hat. But if you’re a brand looking to start helping your customers through a voice assistant, the new tech can throw up plenty of challenges. We think it’s useful to start out by thinking about the two sides of any voice conversation: the input and the output.
Speech isn’t like writing. Human beings use really different language when they talk out loud. (If you’ve been on one of our training sessions, your writing might be more speechlike than it was before, but it’s never going to be exactly the same.)
Whether they’re doing a ‘Hey Google’-style search or using your proprietary app, people will use their speaking voice. That means they’ll say ‘Laura has been talking about prawn gyoza for the last hour’ and not what they’d type into a search bar (‘Japanese takeaway south Manchester delivery’). But whether it’s edamame, energy or electronics you’re selling, you’ll need to think carefully about what your audience will be asking for to get near the top of the search rankings.
Answer in your real voice
If your brand has its own voice assistant, take the time to make sure its personality is a good fit for you. Chatbots and voice assistants are already starting to all sound the same, so don’t settle for an off-the-shelf product which is generically ‘warm and friendly’.
Be sceptical of anyone who tries to recommend a radically different tone of voice from your main one. Your new digital friend should be an extension of your main brand’s personality and feel like someone you’d really hire. Setting up their voice is a chance to express yourself, say something about your company’s history, and show your audience you’ve made the effort.
And as always, plug your ears to the jargon
The way things are going, we’ll soon be able to put together a voice tech bingo card, with conversation architecture, voice revolution and anthropomorphic UI on the winning line. When you’re reading up on voice, don’t let the consultancy jargon fool you. The skills you need to have good conversations are golden oldies. They’re just having their comeback tour.
Doctors and the healthcare industry have unique problems with the way they communicate. Medical terms and words can feel like a foreign language. (Sometimes what’s written literally is, with Latin origins that aren’t generally in use.)
We’ve written about medical language before, and this topic’s been in the news again – doctor’s orders are to write letters that are easier for patients to understand.
To build on what we’ve already shared, here are our observations and tips to help make sure patients don’t feel like they’re in an episode of Casualty.
Patients rely on clear communication
Good communication and interpersonal skills are powerful tools in any first aid kit. Doctors run the risk that their patients won’t understand basic health information. In turn there’s less chance they can make good decisions about their diagnosis and how to look after themselves. It’s too easy for patients to misinterpret things like warnings on prescriptions and medication small print.
They often have to translate medical language into plain English
The once fastest man over 200m & 400m simplified his diagnosis for us, in a way most of us will understand. Who would ordinarily know what a ‘transient ischemic attack’ is?
Don’t hide behind scientific jargon
Hospital or surgery letters shouldn’t need someone with a medical degree to be able to translate what’s been said. So try:
- ditching all the Latin words and phrases – use words that make patients feel you understand them
- being consistent with the terminology you and medical professionals use
- cutting out platitudes like “It was a pleasure to meet you”, and get to your point quickly. (These are often used as crutches to soften giving difficult news.)
- writing more like you speak – imagine a patient sat with you (a classic bedside chat).
Trust me, I’m a writer
Find us @TheWriter, and share your best and worst medical speak.
And you can find our stand at The Global Pharma Marketing Summit in Berlin next month. While we’re there, we’ll be talking about why pharma language doesn’t have to be so complicated.