Blog in Wordy thoughts
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.
On a recent train journey, I was sat behind a jovial group of tech bods. They were talking about their ‘elevator pitch’.
Here’s what they said
Tech bod #1: So an elevator pitch is what we’d say to someone about what we do, if we met them in a lift?
Tech bod #2: Yeah. It has to be short and sweet, so you could say it all in a quick elevator ride.
Tech bod #1 (jokingly): But we’ve got so much to say. We’d have to press all the buttons!
Tech bod #2 (laughing): And they’d hate you for it.
That got me thinking. Because we see this all the time in writing. Businesses focus on what they want the reader to know, not what the reader really wants to know.
They press all the buttons in the lift
That’s a problem. Do that and you’re metaphorically holding your readers hostage. You’re literally wasting their time with information they’re not interested in. And you know it.
When you want to talk about your business, it’s not about what you do and how you do it. It’s about what you can do for your audience. Sounds obvious, but we’ve all come across those button-pressing businesses.
Our advice: next time you need to pitch your business, pick a floor and stick to it.
My running buddy’s a doctor. And while pounding the pavements, she’s given me a few tips on how to get to the point. Because sometimes, it can be a question of life or death.
Before we started running together, I thought I had the whole ‘how to deliver difficult messages’ thing nailed: you say sorry; you explain why; you move on to a fix. But while that might work a treat when you’re writing to customers to say their gas bill’s going up or that a mobile banking app is bust; it doesn’t work with really tricky messages. Like telling someone that if they don’t lose weight they’ll have a heart attack before the year’s out. Or that something unusual came up in a routine scan.
That’s the kind of conversation she has with patients, and their families, every single day of the week.
I never tire of asking her how she does it. How she not only explains the complexities of a cocktail of drugs to a vulnerable patient, but also persuades them to care about it. Or how she’ll listen to a chain smoker’s woes with sympathy but will never sugar-coat her fix to their ailments.
Her calls to action are clear. Her explanations are straightforward (she doesn’t even need to say sorry to give them, either). And she only has 10 minutes to gain the patient’s trust.
These days, I give my writing the 10-minute test too. Assuming I’m lucky enough to have my reader’s attention for that long, I ask myself will they:
* find my call to action
* make sense of what I’m saying
* believe me?
I’d never want my doctor to waste time sitting on the fence or dwelling on background details when giving me news. So, I shouldn’t go there with my readers, either.
As part of Learning at Work week, we’re sharing stories about things we’ve learned in unexpected places.
‘I see where you’re coming from, but…’
‘He’s a nice guy, but…’
‘We’re really sorry, but…’
But undoes all the words before it
Sat in one of many business-y corporate conferences a few years back, our marketing director shared six words that really stuck with me: everything before the but is codswallop. (Well, that’s the censored version.)
And it’s so true. The ‘but’ undoes everything you’ve just said. You can ignore all the guff that comes before – that’s padding. Because whatever follows is what they really mean.
It’s become my little bug-bear.
My personal pet hate is ‘We’re really sorry, but’. I’ve seen the phrase over and over in ‘we’ve messed up’ apology letters. And I feel it wipes out the sincerity of what they’re trying to say.
Why say it?
But can instinctively make people roll their eyes, switch off, or put them on the back foot. It puts people on the defensive. I often cringe, suspecting bad news is coming.
It’s a negative-sounding conjunction. And it acts pretty similarly to the phrase ‘with all due respect’, which people often spout when they actually have little or no respect for the person they’re talking to.
Try replacing 'but' with 'and'
But is probably the most limiting word in our vocabulary. It can often change a neutral statement into a negative one. Using ‘but’ closes off the conversation, while ‘and’ opens it up.
So try replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’. See how that changes what you’re saying. And try to listen to yourself when you say (or write) it.
‘I see where you’re coming from, but it’d be clearer like this.’
‘I see where you’re coming from, and it’d be clearer like this.’
It’s not the only word that can damage your brand
A while back, we talked to three brand experience gurus, from three very different companies, about how language can affect their business. Here’s what they had to say.
Take some wishy-washy words. Add a line about causing offence. Sprinkle a hashtag. Hold the sympathy. Leave to simmer, then turn up the heat online for 15 minutes.
There you have the recipe for a half-baked public apology, cooked up by a publicist on behalf of a shamed celebrity. It’s a technique we’ve been seeing a lot of lately and, if social media is anything to go by, one we’re hot at spotting.
We get it though. Writing an apology (whether public or private) can be a minefield. Sometimes it’s because you’re afraid of looking weak. Or getting into hot water by admitting you’re in the wrong. But when sincerity is missing from your apology, it stands out at 40 paces.
So what’s our recipe for an effective apology?
Having a business is a lot like being famous. You’re judged on what you say and how you say it. A poor choice of words and your reputation can be left in tatters. But get it right and you’ll get good press, plenty of reassured customers and perhaps a few new ones for your efforts.
Whether you’re responding to a public outcry (for example, Ryanair’s cancelled flights last year) or a private letter, these must-have ingredients will help you avoid making a dog’s dinner of it.
An armful of active language
It’s an obvious one, but it shows you’re owning your apology. Sometimes you’ll see statements like ‘Mistakes were made’. By whom? We use the ‘by monkeys’ test. If you can add ‘by monkeys’ to the end of the sentence and it makes sense, it’s passive. Rejig the subjects and objects, and use verbs instead of nouns to turn what you’re saying active.
A healthy splash of sincerity
We see a lot of ‘We’d like to apologise for any inconvenience’, and we’d ban it if we could. It comes from the good old days of formal business language but in 2018, it comes across as copied and pasted from the user manual.
It’s also meaningless: the ‘we’d like to’ smacks of ‘we’re only doing this because we’ve been told we should’. The ‘apologise’ is a stuffy substitute for sorry, and ‘inconvenience’ is just plain rude. If you know what the fallout was (a missed wedding from a cancelled flight, a delay in opening a new account, a tree on the track) say it. It shows you’re listening and you care.
A pinch of personality
Every brand has a tone of voice. (Yours doesn’t? Call us.) It puts your brand’s aims and aspirations into words that everyone can get behind. It’s a big part of your end-to-end brand experience and so while you might think it’s only for the fun things (like an ad campaign or your website), it’s just as important – or even more so – for the more sensitive or serious stuff.
Because that’s where people really pay attention. By injecting a bit of your personality, you’re showing that your brand’s not run by robots reeling out the tired, formulaic phrases. And that you believe in talking to your customers in the same way, wherever they are in the journey.
A dash of humility
Being able to show that you’re learning works wonders. If you’re changing the way you do things, rethinking your strategy or simply refunding a payment, let your reader know. They’ll appreciate your honesty and openness (and the impact on their bank balance), and see your brand as more human than humdrum.
And a sprinkle of ‘sorry’
The all-important ingredient. Put it in first or leave it to the end. But put it in unsullied, untweaked and unfettered. No ifs, no buts, just sorry.
If you’re a company (or a celebrity) and your apologies need whipping into shape, get in touch.