Blog in Bits and pieces
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.
“I’m not sure if you saw my last email…”
“As per my last communication on Thursday…”
“Matt, any update on this?”
Cue rolling eyes and banging heads against keyboards. We all hate email rhetoric, but it’s tricky to avoid, and it’s something many people get wrong. As Adobe found, when they shared the top 9 email phrases that irritate us.
It’s hard to get a feel for tone when you’re reading off a screen
It’s easy for an email to be misconstrued. We don’t have the luxury of facial expressions or seeing someone’s mannerisms, and can’t always pick up on the way they’re saying it. A message written tongue in cheek, in jest or in haste can unwittingly be flipped on its head and taken the wrong way. And we’re at the mercy of the mood of the reader, too.
Modern inboxes are noisy, crowded, and extremely competitive
The average office worker gets a staggering 121 emails a day.
If you want your email to stand out, be read and be acted on, here’s what you need to do to avoid the pitfalls of email…
1. Remember, it’s not just about you
Think about the person you’re writing to. What do they need to know? How do you want them to feel after reading your email? And what do you want them to do?
Once you know the answer to these three questions, you can play around with the order of know, feel and do depending on what’s most important. If you’re still waiting for a reply, you might want to start with the do. If you’re giving a difficult message, focus on the feel.
2. Make your subject line your hook
Treat it like your headline. Make sure it sums up what your email is about – in a way that’ll make sense to your reader, not to you. Don’t fall into the trap of using things like reference numbers or generic phrases like ‘important information’ as your subject line.
And put the key info into the first two or three words. Anything longer might be cut short in your reader’s email browser.
3. Break things up and keep it snappy
Subheadings are your friend. Hefty blocks of text, particularly in an email, can make people switch off. Chunk up what you’re saying into sections, with a subheading that summarises the main point of that section.
Try to keep your sentences under 25 words, and paragraphs shorter than six lines.
Don’t waffle either. Keep what you’re saying snappy. If someone has to scroll a lot, they’re less likely to keep reading. Once you’ve written your email, go back and see if you can cut about 20% without losing the meaning. Your reader will thank you for it.
4. Don’t just think about what you’re saying – but how you’re saying it
It’s harder in an email to pick up on emotions and convey your intentions. So the tone of what you’re writing is important.
Watch out for overly formal, stuffy phrases – as per, regarding, with all due respect... Imagine someone standing next to you, and write it like you’d say it.
Make any call to actions super clear – you’ll be less likely to have to chase people.
Be direct but polite – remember, people will see right through showy over-politeness, and spot glimpses of passive aggression a mile off.
Your best bet is to keep things simple, and use your brand tone of voice if you have one.
Try it on for size
Test out these ideas in your next email, and tweet us @TheWriter, letting us know how you got on.
Personalised letters, tick. Approved list of empathetic phrases (including ‘I’d love to help you with that today’), tick. Think you’ve got this emotional connection malarkey nailed?
There’s more to connecting with people emotionally than mail merging their first name into things. And empathy isn’t sounding friendly, or just repeating back what somebody’s already told you.
Still, there’s been a lot of that going on lately, which means customers have got savvy and expect more. So, if your approach to personalisation is collecting data and regurgitating it back to customers at key touchpoints, you’re probably not going to build lasting connections.
Empathy is talking to customers about the things they care about
Not what’s important to you. And it’s about doing it consistently, even when you’re delivering bad news and dealing with complaints.
For example, we helped BT change their approach to handling complaints. We encouraged their agents to step away from templated scripts and stock responses, and think about how they’d feel in the customer’s shoes. And repeat complaints dropped from 28% to less than 20%.
It’s not just a nice to have. It can make and save you money
We helped a big energy company sound the same in their debt letters as they did in their everyday messages. So people didn’t feel like they were suddenly being treated like criminals for falling behind on their payments. And they were less scared to get in touch to sort it out. The result? Ten percent more people got out of debt.
All this from putting the customer first and using words that make them feel you understand them (and are human beings too).
We’ve learnt a few things about empathy over the years
We’ve spent 15 years helping clients make their words more efficient, empathetic, distinctive and consistent. So we’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright strange along the way. Check out our blog on the Ten ways you absolutely, definitely shouldn’t do CX to find out more.
Plus, come and see us at Technova Connected Customer 2018, Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th July. We’ll be on the CX Leaders stage at 2.40pm on Tuesday 3rd, talking about why your language is your customer experience. Or you can pop by our stand for a chat any time.