Three tips to improve customer communication

Three tips to improve customer communication

It matters what you say, but more importantly, how you say it

As customer experience professionals we often highlight the importance of consistent omni-channel experience. In this article we take a closer look at the importance of the content, tone and impact of customer communication.

A recent interesting discussion with a friend, reminded me again how important it is to design customer experiences from the outside-in, and not the other way around – through every touch point, all channels – especially written communication because it is so visible and lasting. Also, it highlighted impact of communication when crafted without a considering the style, tone and content.

Picture this scenario.. you use Airbnb often and plan and book your stay online, with this trusted provider. A fairly common “job to do” for consumers, right?

The selected establishment sends a confirmation note … So, you’re are all set, except, when you read through the email. Your blood runs cold, because the content triggers red alarms subconsciously and the emotional flight, flight or freeze buttons are activated.

The notice reads…(extract)

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I’m wondering if you too experienced similar emotions while reading this? I was gobsmacked, to say the least! And I actually, felt quite extremely disheartened as a customer experience professional. The range of fundamental poorly considered aspects in this communication, makes me wonder how long this establishment will stay listed… oh, I forgot to mention…my friend directed his wish to cancel the booking and move to another establishment of Airbnb, but it resulted in a closed door. So maybe they are safe for a while? I cannot imagine how the stay will be now, subsequent to his response to the email.

It brings me back to the glaring inside-out approach and mistakes to avoid. Using this communication as a case study, let’s unpack where things went wrong and better ways to approach it.

What is the writer saying?

1.    “I’m not giving you any information till 3 days before you come… if you not happy about it or it’s an “issue”, speak now!”

What a consumer hears…

  • I decide what is safe for you to know, or what is safe for me to share with you;
  • You may be already planning your party and need our address to invite your unsavoury friends (Reading the entire message…);
  • Take it, or leave it; or
  • I dare you to challenge me!

2.    “You agreed to my rules.. and I am strict … and if you disregard me, I will charge to a penalty, which I will determine, starting with a R1000”

What a consumer hears…

  • The principal has spoken;
  • He already believes you are not trustworthy, destructive and you should think twice before you cross him, because he will punish you;
  • They don’t attract decent people to their place, or everyone is a hooligan, so you must be one too;
  • All your friends are like you… not decent people, or
  • Guilty until proven innocent.

3.    We are not able to help you with your luggage

What consumer hears…

  • We don’t want to help you, or
  • Although you are our guest, make your problems someone else’s (here’s a discount coupon to show you how serious we are about it!)

Three tips to craft customer communication from outside-in, using basic customer experience building blocks.

When crafting your auto responses, booking confirmation, query responses, it is essential to write it from the reader’s or customer’s perspective. Know who you are talking to. When populating the customer communication artefacts, incorporate at least 3 of the customer experience dimensions in the communication such as emotion, success, and ease. Using this lens to craft the messaging, consider the following points:

 1.    Talk/write to a “real” person

CX Driver: emotions

Tonality adds the subtle emotional layer or texture in communication and can be used very effectively used to subconsciously create a predisposition to expecting a positive experience (your brand’s desired experience).

Tonality in this case, illustrates the critical parent mindset used to craft the message. (Talking to a child). Even the few positive highlights such as “thanks for booking with us” (a seemingly friendly introduction), is quickly erased with the content and tonality of the message.

“Speak now” sounds like a command… and for most, it will sound like a dare NOT to challenge.

How to approach the tonality

Writer as a person: Every brand should consider its “Experience Essence”. The tone of all messages should reflect this. In the absence of a defined Experience Essence, consider the brand’s values and personality. And then consider… does the message sound like that person?

Reader as a person: Added to this, who are you talking to? Have a picture in your mind of a specific person who will be reading your communication. It brings in a human element to the tonality and communication style.

In this case study, the picture of Mrs Rottenmeier from the animated children series: “Heidi”, springs to mind! Is that what your communication sound like?

Ms Rottenmeier, from the Heidi series

An example to evoke positive emotion…

“Thank you for booking you stay with us. We are delighted to have you as our guest and look forward to hosting you. For your convenience we would like to share some information with you to help you with your planning and to ensure your stay with us, is a memorable one…”

The objective is to evoke the desired emotions and feelings: Wanted, acknowledged, expected, comforted, valued (for using this brand over another)

In summary.. Write as if you are speaking in the character or personality of your brand… and talk to a specific and “real” person, then ensure that it comes across in a similar way

 2.    How to communicate your rules

CX driver: Success

When crafting a customer message, care should be taken to present it in a way that the message cannot be misunderstood or that the content is loaded with innuendoes.

In this case study, one senses that the owner of this establishment must have had bad experiences with guests in the past.. maybe a lot! The communication echoes that. Despite the apparent effort to prepare a guest, it has the opposite effect (it prepares you for the worst). It subconsciously communicates mistrust, anger, defeat, fear, judgement, disappointment… none of which a new prospective guest, are guilty of…yet. Guilty by proxy?

Whatever happened in the past should not be translated as “quasi assistance” for prospective guests, clients, customers. Many refund policies springs to mind. Brands should also consider these messages, and what customers “hear” …

  • You may exchange an item, BUT we don’t offer refunds. (Once we have your money and the sale secured, sorry, it’s your lose if you don’t like it)
  • We don’t exchange sales items; or
  • We only exchange within 7days of purchase, with a receipt and in same condition or packaging(… so how would you know if a product is defect, etc if you don’t open the packaging?)

An example to enhance success (and communicate rules)…

“During you stay with us, you may wish to catch up with your friends. There are several lovely spots in our area to meet your friends for coffee, drinks. or a meal. See a list of great restaurants that I can personally recommend (safe walking distance) ….”

In summary… Consider the reason you need to communicate rules to guests or customers. Is it to ensure that their problems can be solved? Or do you want them to feel completely supported when they do experience problems? There is clearly a place for sharing “rules”, terms and conditions or procedures. Unfortunately, these are mostly designed only with the best interest of the brand at heart, not the consumers’…. and consumers know it!

Communicate your “rules”, terms and conditions from the consumer’s perspective with the intention to solve their problems, rather as a threat or obstacle to them.

 3.    Tell your customer how you are making it easier for them

CX driver: Ease

In this case study, the consideration of the potential luggage problem, may be well intended, but poorly positioned. This establishment clearly understands schlepping your luggage around while trying to explore a city, when you arrive too early for check-in, is a hassle. But assistance should be positioned from their perspective, solving their problem, rather that coming across as solving only your own problems.

*We often challenge our clients in journey design, to seek opportunities to own a “unclaimed problem space”. This is a perfect example and opportunity to differentiate the value offer.

An easy way to address this challenge in the communication, is to write it from a voice of truly supporting your guests and to make it easier for them to solve their problems. Takealot is a good case-in-point. If you are not satisfied with your purchase, they will collect it from you again. Not… “We are happy to take it back and refund you, but it’s your problem to get it back to us!”

An example to reduce effort…

“We appreciate traveling with luggage could be a challenge if you arrive early in our beautiful city, and you are excited to explore as much as possible. Here’s what you can do…. use this code to claim a discount that we negotiated for you, with XX company. Ask for X, he will gladly assist you. This will free your hands so to speak, to discover what our city has to offer. If you have not yet planned the morning events, here is a great link with things to do and how to get there.”

In summary: If the intention is to make it easier for your customer, then make it easier!

More often than not, well-intended customer communication is exceptionally poorly crafted, not written with a human in mind and unintentional as to its potential interpretation or subconscious message.

When a brand’s communication tells a different story to what the consumer believes its personality to be, there is a disconnect. It results in mistrust or caution and impacts on the subsequent experience and relationship.

Lastly, we advise brands to undertake channel reviews of their customer communication and ensure that at least these principles are firmly embedded in the communication. This inventory should include all customer touch points (notices, auto responses, email responses (to enquiries, complaints, compliments), IVR, Web chats, etc) to ensure that it’s consistent with the brand’s character, the tone and the intended outcome of the message.

You may also like: Customer Journey Mapping | Ingredients to Designing a Great Customer Experience 

The Consumer Psychology Lab is a boutique customer experience consultancy with the dream of creating magical experiences for consumers. To achieve that, we support our clients to adopt a more outside-in approach to their customer interaction. Equally important, we support our clients to empower their employees with skills that enable them to deliver their desired experiences. Ask us to help you review your customer communication. www.consumerlab.co.za