Writing coach Leslie O’Flahavan on the dos and don’ts of buyer messaging

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From contemplating the channel and model voice to matching the scenario and the tone of the shoppers, are you able to ever actually nail down the proper message in customer support?

Writing a transparent, well timed, and empathetic message to your prospects is a really sought-after craft. Fortuitously, it’s not as elusive as you may suppose, and it could undoubtedly be taught — writing coach Leslie O’Flahavan has spent over twenty years doing simply so. She’s helped what she calls essentially the most cussed, inexperienced, word-phobic individuals enhance their writing expertise.

Leslie, a author and reader born in a household of writers and readers, has been fascinated by language ever since she was a child. She went on to change into a highschool English instructor, school writing teacher, and writing advisor for presidency companies. After which, electronic mail went massive – so massive, actually, that Leslie realized it might take the company world by storm and radically alter the way in which individuals wrote at work. And so, in 1996, she based E-WRITE, a writing coaching consultancy that helps individuals do exactly that.

For the previous 25 years, she’s been serving to individuals and companies draft their very own fashion guides and write higher emails, chats, and social media messages to enhance each communication and the client expertise. On this episode of Inside Intercom, we sit down with Leslie to speak about what writing to prospects is all about — what to not do (the traditional non-apology, anybody?), what to bear in mind, and what’s going that can assist you navigate all of the difficult, sensitive conditions in customer support.

Should you’re quick on time, listed here are a couple of fast takeaways:

  • Writing profitable emails is an acquired talent, so companies ought to all the time prepare their customer support brokers. Solely then are you able to encourage them to take macros and data articles and customise them because the scenario requires.
  • When apologizing, brokers ought to keep away from broad, passive generalizations resembling “We remorse any inconvenience this will likely have precipitated.” Acknowledge what the client is saying and be as private and particular as you’ll be able to.
  • Use plain language. The author ought to be assured that their readers can perceive and use the language, particularly in delicate conditions the place the client might already be upset.
  • Emoji use in buyer assist is a no brainer when the model’s voice is playful and enjoyable – simply make certain it’s there for embellishment, not carrying content material or changing phrases.
  • When the client reaches out in a unique tone from the model’s, try to match it as a lot as attainable within the greeting, closing, and apology, and use extra of the model’s voice in between.

Should you get pleasure from our dialogue, try extra episodes of our podcast. You may comply with on iTunes, stream on Spotify, or seize the RSS feed in your participant of selection. What follows is a flippantly edited transcript of the episode.


The artwork of writing effectively at work

Liam Geraghty: Leslie, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us on the present in the present day. Might you inform me somewhat bit about your background and the way you began educating individuals about writing?

Leslie O’Flahavan: Properly, that’s an incredible story. Typically I might start, “I used to be born in a cabin within the woods on a snowy winter’s night,” however I’ve all the time been a writing instructor. That’s all the time been my occupation. I began as a highschool English instructor, a job I dearly liked and did for about 9 years. Then, I turned a university writing teacher and a contract author. And in 1996, I used to be educating day-long writing workshops in authorities companies as a result of I’m based mostly in Washington DC, they usually’re an employer within the neighborhood. And I began to say to myself, “This electronic mail factor is de facto going to alter the way in which individuals write at work.” And that was the delivery of the concept for E-WRITE, my firm, a writing coaching consultancy that helps individuals be taught to write down effectively at work.

Liam: So, you’re the absolute excellent particular person to speak to then about efficient buyer messaging and engagement. One factor I wished to start out with was messaging that’s not efficient, the form of fails and blunders of written communication. There are a lot of methods to get it mistaken, aren’t there?

“After they obtain our response, they suppose, ‘Properly, you would have despatched this to anybody. Do you see me in any respect?’”

Leslie: Sure, certainly. And let’s preserve it adverse, huh? Would you want me to talk about a few of the methods we get it mistaken? Sure, certainly. In customer support, particularly in electronic mail, we frequently fail to show to the client that we learn their incoming grievance or inquiry rigorously. We reply too rapidly, we omit particular particulars about what made them sad or what they wanted assist with, and once they obtain our response, they suppose, “Properly, you would have despatched this to anybody. Do you see me in any respect? Have you learnt who you’re writing to?”

In reside chat, I believe we generally blunder once we fail to handle the delays in reside chat which can be pure to offering service in that channel. For instance, generally the client has to step away from the chat to retrieve the knowledge they want, or generally the customer support agent has to do a protracted, detailed investigation into the client’s account. Managing these delays is a writing talent distinctive to speak. And generally, we don’t do this effectively sufficient. “Are you able to give me a minute?” is probably not all that’s referred to as for.

Say it such as you imply it

Liam: Is there one that actually will get to you? One sentence you see rather a lot that you just simply can’t stand studying in messages to prospects?

Leslie: Sure. “We remorse any inconvenience this will likely have precipitated.”

Liam: Oh, that’s a doozy.

“There’s no query that the corporate has accomplished one thing that harmed the client’s wellbeing ultimately. So, ‘any inconvenience’ is passive-aggressive”

Leslie: I hate that one essentially the most.

Liam: What’s it about it?

Leslie: Properly, it’s passive-aggressive. “Any inconvenience this will likely have precipitated.” Properly, actually, it precipitated heartbreak, problem, struggling, lack of cash, et cetera. There’s no query that the corporate has accomplished one thing that harmed the client’s wellbeing ultimately. So, “any inconvenience” is passive-aggressive. Inconvenience is a euphemism for any sort of issue. If we’ve despatched a buyer an bill twice and the billing account is subsequently incorrect, and we are saying, “We remorse any inconvenience this will likely have precipitated,” effectively, it’s greater than an inconvenience. It’s an error and possibly has price me double cost. You have to acknowledge that.

I additionally dislike that sentence quite a bit as a result of realizing find out how to apologize and categorical empathy sincerely is the way in which mediocre customer support differs from wonderful customer support. If we feed our customer support brokers this drab, insincere, passive-aggressive sentence they usually use it, effectively, it’s only a failure multiplier.

Liam: And so, to keep away from these sorts of errors from the get-go, ought to individuals go about creating a messaging technique? What would that contain?

Leslie: Do you imply what would contain to switch the sentence I simply gave you?

Liam: Properly, I suppose on the whole, however really, it might be nice to listen to how you’ll change that exact sentence.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if the backlog is horrible, simply use the template.’ No. We count on them to customise”

Leslie: I might like to inform you find out how to change that sentence. First, we select “I” or “we” to start out the sentence. If the corporate has made a mistake, go forward and use the pronoun “we.” If the customer support agent individually has made a mistake, use the pronoun “I.” This easy change of phrases, “we” to “I,” you and I do know it’s constructed upon a number of belief on your frontline brokers. Should you allow them to or encourage them to write down within the first particular person singular, that signifies that in the event that they should apologize to a buyer, they gained’t themselves undergo dire punishment from administration. So, “I remorse,” and now we use a particular noun as a substitute of a normal one. Inconvenience is normal. “I remorse the delay,” or, “I apologize for the transport delay this billing error has precipitated.” All alongside the way in which, I swapped in particular phrases, and now we’ve a honest apology.

And to return to the query about technique you requested me earlier, the train I’ve simply gone via in revising that unhappy little sentence is constructed upon a couple of assumptions which can be a part of an excellent technique. Primary, we prepare our frontline customer support brokers effectively sufficient that we are able to belief them to speak candidly with prospects. That’s the very first thing, writing coaching for frontline brokers. We can’t count on them to have these expertise as a result of the way in which we serve prospects is altering so rapidly that frontline brokers are eternally having to accumulate new writing expertise. Second, we offer templates or macros or data articles, no matter you need to name them. However third, we count on our frontline customer support brokers to customise them. It’s not a matter of “if the backlog is horrible, simply use the template.” No. We count on them to customise. And this can be a very high-level writing talent. In the event that they’re going to do it efficiently, we’ve to coach and assist them.

Tips for crisp, clear communication

Liam: And talking of coaching, you could have a unbelievable course on LinkedIn Studying in regards to the significance of plain language. What recommendation may you give for individuals who aspire to write down extra clearly and accurately? As a result of I definitely suppose it’s more durable than you’ll suppose it’s.

Leslie: You’re proper. It’s more durable than you suppose it’s. And I imagine avidly in plain language. It’s the communication motion I’m aligned with and have been for my total profession. I believe plain language is commonly condemned by the phrase “plain,” so I simply need to clarify what plain language is. It’s a communication philosophy or a writing strategy that claims the measure of the benefit of what you’ve written is within the reader’s means to make use of it. “Can my reader use it?” Not, “Have I written plainly? Do I take advantage of one-syllable phrases as a substitute of three? Am I writing briefly sentences of 9 phrases as a substitute of lengthy sentences of 29 phrases?” These are all decisions. Sure, we may make these decisions. However for those who subscribe to the philosophy, you imagine “I’m the author, I’ll regulate what I’m writing, in order that I could be fairly sure my reader can perceive and use it.” That’s the philosophy. And it’s exhausting. You must know your reader. And for those who don’t, if in case you have a number of readers, it’s important to discover out what completely different readers want and find out how to put together one communication that meets the wants of various readers. It’s exhausting, however it’s worthwhile. And it’s a matter of respect for the reader.

“Are you able to think about if we began a textual content message to a buyer, ‘To whom it might concern?’”

Liam: Yeah, 100%. I used to be questioning the way you suppose the world of buyer messaging has tailored to a extra fashionable, form of conversational tone. A quote that involves thoughts is the English actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry saying, “For me, it’s a explanation for some upset that extra Anglophones don’t get pleasure from language.” And he goes on to speak in regards to the form of pedantry some individuals have relating to the principles of language and writing and grammar and the entire shebang. How effectively do you suppose we’ve tailored to that inside buyer messaging?

Leslie: I believe we’ve accomplished fairly effectively in some channels as a result of the stress to sound pure in these channels may be very excessive. Are you able to think about if we began a textual content message to a buyer, “To whom it might concern?” “We remorse any inconvenience this will likely have precipitated.” When prospects are utilizing a channel to obtain customer support that they largely use to speak of their private lives, you simply seem like the world’s hugest dork for those who write in too formal a mode in a textual content message.

I believe there are some pure safeguards in place. Simply as you don’t use four-letter swear phrases if you’re together with your grandmother, most corporations don’t talk in an excessively formal fashion within the channels individuals use to speak of their private lives, in social media, in textual content. We slip and form of lose our love of language and our capability to be pure within the channels individuals are much less doubtless to make use of of their private lives, particularly postal mail or electronic mail. E-mail’s getting dusty. So, sure, I really like that quote, and I’m all the time right here for quoting somebody who loves language whereas we speak about language.

Liam: In the case of partaking prospects via chat and textual content, may you share some recommendations on the easiest way to really do this?

“We don’t need the client to have an upbeat, playful expertise once we’re advertising to them and a colorless, bureaucratic expertise once they need assistance”

Leslie: We should all the time exploit the real-time engagement in reside chat or textual content to make use of the technique of probing, of question-asking. The best way we undergo once we should ship customer support in electronic mail is that it’s simply not an excellent observe to trigger a number of forwards and backwards within the electronic mail. We attempt to reply as soon as, first contact decision in electronic mail. However in reside chat, the place we’re reside with the client, or in textual content messaging, which is commonly near reside or synchronous, we should always have a dialog. I’ve a corny saying I really like to make use of, “If telephone and electronic mail had a child, they might name it chat.” That’s my new nation tune. Let’s use what the telephone provides – the chance to travel – to ask probing questions, to examine for the client’s understanding and our personal. Let’s use these choices once we write in these different channels.

Setting the precise tone

Liam: And what about emoji and abbreviations? Right here at Intercom, we completely love utilizing emoji all over the place. What are your ideas on once we ought to be utilizing these?

“The emoji should embellish the communication, not be a part of the that means of the communication”

Leslie: We should always all the time be utilizing these once they’re a part of our model. Some manufacturers depend on emoji quite a bit of their advertising, and prospects will count on that form of considerably lighter, extra fashionable fashion. If emoji are a part of our advertising model, they need to be a part of our customer support model. It is a through-line we all the time need to create. We don’t need the client to have an upbeat, playful expertise once we’re advertising to them and a colorless, bureaucratic expertise once they need assistance. If emoji are a part of our model, they need to be there in our customer support interplay.

However right here’s my strict rule about utilizing emoji if you’re fixing a buyer’s downside in writing or if you’re responding to a grievance or perhaps a praise. The emoji should embellish the communication, not be a part of the that means of the communication. In our private lives, we generally use emoji to switch phrases totally. And the higher we all know the particular person we’re speaking with, the extra strong their interpretation is of what that emoji means. Should you textual content your mother and say, “I had a chilly on Thursday,” and he or she provides you a thumbs up, that might appear completely idiotic to an outsider. But when you already know that you just get well rapidly from colds and your mother is aware of that too, the thumbs-up is like, “Go forward, honey. You’ll really feel higher quickly.” The emoji is carrying content material in that dialog. In customer support, the emoji mustn’t ever carry content material. It’s simply embellishment. It appears to be like enjoyable, but it surely doesn’t exchange phrases.

Liam: And is it the identical for abbreviations?

Leslie: Relies on what the client has demonstrated about understanding these abbreviations. I’ll give an instance from airways. I’ve labored with numerous airways, and in their very own communications, they discuss with airports by three-letter codes. Typically they actually need the airport’s abbreviation as a result of a metropolis, just like the one I reside in, has three close by airports, and you may’t write “The Washington DC Airport” as a result of there are three so close to. If the client has used the airport code accurately, you’ll be able to reply utilizing the airport code too. You may assume – as a result of the client’s demonstrated data of the airport codes – that they perceive them. In the event that they haven’t, you shouldn’t. We don’t need our use of abbreviations to trigger one other contact.

Liam: How necessary it’s to acknowledge the extent of ritual a buyer is coming to you with and responding again to that on the identical degree?

“We do that on a regular basis in our private interactions – we discover the opposite particular person’s tone, and we regulate”

Leslie: This mirroring of ritual is a matter of respect. For individuals who talk with prospects, there’s a couple of stress in setting the tone. If we count on frontline customer support brokers to write down within the firm’s model voice and the client is speaking in a model voice that’s very completely different, for instance, you greet prospects saying, “Hello, Liam,” however the buyer is livid and has emailed, “To whom this will likely concern,” we’ve a battle. What does the customer support agent do? Does the particular person use the corporate’s model voice as a result of that’s what the coaching has been and that’s what the supervisor expects, or does the corporate discover what the client’s tone is and attempt to change into somewhat bit extra formal, possibly somewhat extra official?

These decisions are delicate, and customer support brokers are extraordinarily well-versed and competent at making these slight shifts in tone once they discuss on the telephone. We do that on a regular basis in our private interactions – we discover the opposite particular person’s tone, and we regulate. These similar expertise are attainable to show and to be taught for writing. I might say we all the time acknowledge the client’s tone within the greeting and shutting. Within the physique of the e-mail, we might use extra of our group’s model voice. If these two are usually not shut, we may saturate the opening, the closing, the apology, if crucial, and the empathy with the client’s tone, after which, once we’re fixing the issue, we might use our firm’s model voice.

Liam: Let’s chat somewhat bit about an organization’s model voice. We really had our Model Studio staff on the present not too way back, the place they defined Intercom’s voice and tone and the significance of it. What’s the model voice to you, and how are you going to make it shine via in writing?

“I can’t inform you what number of occasions I’m telling the director of buyer care, ‘I believe your organization in all probability has a model voice information. Perhaps you would ask the individuals in advertising if they might share it with you.’”

Leslie: Properly, model voice is the way in which an organization’s model persona – which is formed by emblem and colour palette and icons of various varieties or mascots, and so on. – it’s the way in which the corporate’s model persona is expressed in writing. And the nimbleness that it takes individuals inside the corporate or their advertising companies, their promoting companies, to write down in an organization’s model voice is a really high-level writing talent. Whereas I’m considerably on this, I’m a writing instructor, so I’m interested by an individual’s capability to write down of their group’s model voice. I actually care about how we assist frontline customer support brokers perceive what their firm’s model voice is, what the inspired phrases, phrases, phrases, tone, and relationship to the client are, and the way we assist them do that exhausting factor, which is to write down in a voice aside from their very own private voice, or aside from the form of dry, bureaucratic office model voice.

There’s such a big hole between the conversations corporations have round model and model voice in advertising, promoting, and coms and those which can be occurring in buyer care. I can’t inform you what number of occasions I’m telling the director of buyer care, “I believe your organization in all probability does have a model voice information. Perhaps you would ask the individuals in advertising if they might share it with you.” It’s not a joke. They don’t even know that the model voice has been outlined in a doc. They’re unaware as a result of there’s form of an upstairs, downstairs high quality to the work we’re speaking about. Should you’re paid hourly, and in case you are probably much less more likely to maintain your customer support job after the vacation season has handed as a result of the corporate doesn’t want you anymore, why are they handing you the model voice information? However they need to be. They completely ought to be. I imagine that most individuals who work for corporations could be coached to make use of the model voice in the way in which that their job calls upon them to make use of it, and it requires teaching and collaboration between elements of the corporate that won’t have good patterns of collaboration.

A fortunate match

Liam: Earlier than we end up, Leslie, the place did your love of language come from within the first place?

Leslie: What a stunning query. Thanks for asking me that. I liked to learn after I was somewhat child and have liked to learn all alongside. Once I was an undergraduate, I assumed I might change into a author, and when it got here time to finalize my school main, and I spotted I wished to be a writing instructor, I had that sought-after feeling that I had slipped into the function that matched my items and my loves. I believe my childhood beginnings as a author and reader have been simply golden, actually. My household have been writers and readers, my academics supported me. It was a fortunate match between my loves and my work that has led me right here.

Liam: That’s fantastic. At this level, we all the time ask what’s subsequent, if in case you have any initiatives or plans developing?

“The shopper expertise is awful with chatbots. Should you work together with 20 of them, you’ll have an excellent expertise with one, and the opposite 19 are completely awful”

Leslie: This has been a yr of standing on the deck of a rocking ship and hoping to not be thrown into the water. My enterprise is prospering, completely thriving. There’s one space the place I’m doing extra work, and I’m fairly interested by this, which helps corporations who’ve deployed chatbots do a greater job of this as a result of I believe the client expertise is awful with chatbots. Should you work together with 20 of them, you’ll have an excellent expertise with one, and the opposite 19 are completely awful. And a part of the reason being the chatbot is drawing on content material within the data base or the FAQs, and that data is poor. I’m very excited to be considering extra in regards to the data collections people have created and use. And now that machines are utilizing them, the communication flaws within the data assortment are magnified. That’s one thing I’m actually interested by.

Liam: Good. And lastly, the place can listeners go to maintain up with you and your work?

Leslie: Properly, they’ll all the time discover me on-line at ewriteonline.com. That’s my internet deal with. You may comply with me on Twitter, I’m @LeslieO. I’m actually having fun with LinkedIn now. So, if you wish to comply with me there, I would love that too.

Liam: Leslie, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us in the present day.

Leslie: It’s completely been my pleasure. Thanks for interviewing me like a good friend.


Intercom on Marketing – Desktop Article – horizontal 2019



Liam Geraghty

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