Thursday, January 26, 2012

In Written Communication, Tone Is Everything

One of the greatest skills in life, as well as in customer service, is the ability to communicate effectively. For most businesses, the majority of correspondence is now in the form of written communication. The many conveniences of written communication are at times offset by the loss of clarity in tone and intention. Sometimes an e-mail meant to be helpful can be critically misconstrued by the recipient. This makes it imperative that customer service representatives weigh the language and tone used in each correspondence carefully to avoid unnecessary discord with customers.

There are several factors to keep in mind when crafting the tone of written customer service correspondence. To begin with, each company has a preferred way of communicating with customers. Those representing a Fortune 500 company often choose a professional tone, while small businesses a more comfortable, laid back tone. If unsure what type of language is most appropriate for your company, read marketing material from other companies within your industry, and decide which voice suits your company best.

Customer service representatives doing their job well will quickly become relative experts in the industry they represent. Be aware that the kinds of questions and language that increasingly seem basic and easy to you will not be as obvious to customers. Don’t assume they know industry specific terms or information, but at the same time take care not to talk down to them. Make “respectful clarity” the goal of each written interaction you have with a customer. Before crafting a response to a customer’s inquiry, identify what it is they need. It could be an explanation, a desired action, additional information or recompense. Don’t send a response until confident that it will satisfy their specific inquiry.

Follow these steps to avoid misinterpretation within written correspondence:

Read Your Response Out Loud Before Sending
Reading something out loud, a tip regularly employed by professional writers of all types, can help create some distance between the writer and the words, making it easier to identify spots where the tone is off or the wording is awkward.

Choose Your Words Carefully
Avoid words that are ambiguous or overly complex; simplicity and clarity are the goals in customer service. This might seem an overly obvious piece of advice, but paying extra careful attention to word choices can make a world of difference.

Proofread Everything
Enough awkward business encounters have been caused by typos or lazy writing. Don’t ever send anything out that has not been read over first. Avoid the kinds of embarrassing and preventable mistakes that signal a lack of concern to the customer.

When In Doubt, Run it by a Co-worker
A successful customer service team is quick to work together. Co-workers are a valuable resource for a second opinion on the wording of an email. If the issue is particularly complex, bringing a supervisor, or manager into the discussion can also be a great way to ensure the customer's issue is handled with care and sensitivity to their needs.

While all of this can help to ensure positive experiences in written communication, when it comes down to it, there will be times when the best method to help a customer is simply to pick up the phone. When an e-mail exchange isn’t accomplishing the level of communication you seek, a phone call can often go a long way towards clearing up any confusion and make it easier to establish a light, positive tone.

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