You get home after a long day. You open the mail. You see that a letter has come from your financial services provider—ah, it must be a confirmation of transferring funds to your niece’s educational savings account. You open the letter and it starts with:
“Unfortunately, we can’t initiate the transfer of funds. It is against our policy to accept transfer instructions without a letter of authorization. You must provide a letter of authorization at your branch.”
Just what you need—to be told what can’t be done and that you have to do something else. What if instead of that letter, you received a phone call from a service representative or even a different letter saying:
“We’ll be happy to help with your funds transfer request. All we need is the completed letter of authorization. We’ve enclosed the form, and a postage paid envelope.”
Totally different feeling, right?
A simple change to a positive tone and the rearrangement of a few words can make a significant impact on how a client feels in that exact moment when they are directly experiencing your brand. Indeed, you’re making a statement about how you relate to your clients at every single client touch point—including account service letters.
Many companies put all of their voice and tone emphasis on their marketing communications, leaving operational or account servicing communications out in the cold (no wonder those letters might be so negative!). Consider for a moment that a client may receive far more operational communications than marketing pieces, and you can see where there becomes a disconnect between what the marketing team thinks the client is getting, and what the client actually experiences.
The opportunity and solution lies in customer experience, marketing, and operations teams working together to create a set of easy to follow communications guidelines that capture brand principles, writing styles, and writing strategies. When developing communications guidelines, we always recommend to that our clients look at how their voice and tone come across in operational or account servicing communications—especially whether the voice is negative or positive. There are often a lot of quick fixes (i.e. really negative letters) that can be made to create a positive change in the client experience.
There are many wonderful experts in the field of using positive language, particularly in training programs for staff who are on the front lines, interacting with clients every day. Google “positive language in customer service” and you will discover a great list of resources.
Many of the tools used in shifting customer service interactions to positive language can also be used in written communications. One of the most used negative words in operational communications is “unfortunately,” as we demonstrated at the beginning of this post. There may well be cases when you can’t get away from using the word “unfortunately,” but we’re willing to bet that you could reorder a few words and shift the tone to positive language for most communications.
Here’s another example of negative versus positive language from Robert Bacal at Bacal & Associates:
"We regret to inform you that we cannot process your application to register your business name, since you have neglected to provide sufficient information. Please complete ALL sections of the attached form and return it to us."
"Congratulations on your new business. To register your business name, we need some additional information. If you return the attached form, with highlighted areas filled in, we will be able to send you your business registration certificate within two weeks. We wish you success in your new endeavor."
The contrast is night and day. The good news is that once you start using positive language, it becomes habit. And you can be positive that your clients will appreciate it.