Recently, I returned from a quick Canadian road trip and felt a true sense of relief switching back to measuring distance and speed based on miles rather than kilometers. It got me thinking about how easy it is to get used to a specific communication style in a specific context. Any communication change – even a simple and expected switch from miles to kilometers – can be jarring and slightly disorienting.
Now, imagine this change in the context of brand communication. If you speak one way to clients on Monday and a different way on Tuesday, this shift can be confusing. Like any relationship, the relationship you have with your clients is built slowly over time, grounded by consistent experiences. Maintaining consistent voice and tone on your website, your social media messages, and your blog posts is important– and this consistency needs to extend to customer service communication, too.
Consider the following company description:
“At Acme Inc., we’re passionate about providing clear, actionable solutions that save customers time and help them do more with less.”
In keeping with this mission, Acme Inc. establishes the following voice and tone guidelines:
“Our communications are straightforward, concise and clear. We’re professional without being formal or overbearing. We’re conversational without being too casual.”
Acme’s website reflects these voice and tone guidelines. Their company blog, for example, includes content like “5 Proven Cost-Cutting Solutions” and “The Product Developer’s Guide to Maximizing Productivity”.
Here’s the final part: customer communication. How does an Acme service rep handle a customer question? Let’s say a customer is trying to decide between two different products. A rep might say, “It sounds like your biggest problem is simplifying shipping logistics. If that’s correct, Product B may be better suited to your needs. Can I set you up with a free, 30-day trial?”
Just like Acme’s style guide, the rep speaks in a clear, concise manner. The rep is professional yet still approachable, honing in on the customer’s problem in a friendly manner and suggesting a clear solution.
Now here’s an example of a brand voice in action that doesn’t work for customer communication. The customer is having difficulty activating the free trial. The online rep replies with a link to the FAQ page.
“If the trial activation is failing, consider whether you have downloaded the appropriate support software and your operating system is in compliance with the support software requirements.”
Here, the brand voice shifts from concise, clear and approachable to dry, difficult and technical. To keep Acme’s brand voice the same, the FAQ page should read:
“Trouble activating your free trial? If you’re having difficulty launching the software, confirm you’re running the latest operating system. If you’re still having difficulty, we’re here to help. Reach out via live chat and our service rep will help you troubleshoot.”
This language is clear and actionable. The voice is professional without being overly formal. This FAQ nails what it means to translate brand guidelines into customer service communication.
Now, let’s consider one last puzzle piece: brand tone. A decade ago, if you experienced a customer service problem you’d whip out your phone and dial in for support. Today, the first line of help is likely to be digital, whether that’s tweeting at a company, chatting with a customer support rep online, or corresponding via email.
Switching to written communication via digital channels means speedier, more efficient service. It also means that the tone of delivery can be lost or misconstrued. When you’re speaking with a customer rep on the phone, it’s not just the words they say that matter but how they say them. When a service rep says, “I’m really sorry about this problem”, we can instantly tell from their tone if they’re truly being sincere or just trying to hustle us off the call with a curt response. Inferring tone over written communication channels is more difficult.
Tone context matters, too. Let’s say a service rep is addressing a problem and a customer makes a request. If the service rep denies this request in a casual tone, the customer could interpret this denial as dismissive and rude. Casual banter, emojis and Internet shorthand (like “lol”) may be fine for discussing lunch plans with coworkers. Used in the context of customer service problems – even on casual live chat – this tone could leave a customer feeling like their problem is not taken seriously.
When all your customer service channels have the same voice and tone, these channels deliver a consistent experience. Customers will feel comfortable transitioning from live chat to email to self-service FAQs and back again. Most importantly, your customer service will be in line with your customer’s existing expectations about your company– no sudden, unexpected switches that can cause unnecessary frustration.