Do you know what the number one reason why couples divorce (according to a 2013 survey)? Communication problems!
Communication issue types are varied, but they all have the same effect – dissatisfaction. Here’s a few “Syndromes” we’ve created to illustrate common issues with contact centre communications:
- Windbag Syndrome – When the Customer Service person talks and talks and most of what they say is irrelevant and uninteresting to the caller. The customer feels they have not been listened, to can’t get a word in edgeways, and consequently switch off and avoid calling again. Another version of Windbag Syndrome is taking 5 minutes or 5 sentences to say something which could be said in 1 minute, or 1 sentence.
- Mushroom Syndrome – Where the customer feels like they are being kept in the dark and fed horse manure. Basically there is not enough communication, and what is provided is minimal or not believable. This can result in the perception that the company is hiding something.
- Jargon Syndrome – This is when the Customer Service or Sales person has fallen into the trap of assuming that the customer understands all the jargon and acronyms that are used internally. People often use jargon because it thinks it makes them appear smart. In actual fact customers are easily frustrated by the use of words and language that make no sense to them – it makes them feel dumb and most won’t ask for the meaning. They’ll just avoid calling back.
- Legalese Syndrome – Similar to Jargon syndrome, legalese or “technical speak” refers to the use of terms and phrases which make no sense to customers. Legalese or tech speak is most often used in written communications, and whilst it might be technically correct and legally compliant – it does nothing to warm up the client relationship, and results in the opposite effect. Interestingly, when Virgin launched, one of the first things they did to as part of their disruption strategy was to hire a lawyer to rewrite terms and conditions and contracts so they could easily be understood.
The effect your communications can have on your business
To deliver information quickly and clearly requires good listening, and verbal and written communication skills.
If the Customer Service or Sales Person means one thing, and the customer interprets another, the communication has failed, and it’s not the customer’s fault.
Poor communications will cost you money – whether delivered through your IVR prompts, your phone interactions, your emails or SMS messages, your webchat or social media, or in your Knowledge Base/FAQs area of your website. Here’s why.
- Confusing or long winded IVR prompts increase abandoned call rates.
- Customer Service staff who don’t listen or articulate well spend more time on the phone trying to overcome misunderstandings, resulting in longer call handling times and potentially longer queue waiting times.
- When customers are confused by your verbal or written communications, it can often turn into irritation and result in them seeking help from a competitor.
3 tips for improving Contact Centre communications
1. Speak in your customers’ “language”
We don’t mean switch to Mandarin, Japanese or French at the drop of a hat.
What we mean is mirroring a customer’s language and tone to help create connection and rapport.
For example: if a well-spoken lady calls and greets you with “good afternoon, I am seeking assistance with my….”: don’t respond with “G’day luv, no worries”. A mirrored response would be “Good afternoon, I’d be glad to assist you with …”
However if the customer is angry, you don’t want to mirror their frustration. Instead, adopt a serious, empathetic tone. Customers respond well when they feel they are being heard, particularly by someone who comes across as genuine and level-headed.
2. Match your written and verbal communications
Ensure that written communications are composed by someone with a strong command over the language and reviewed for ambiguity or phrases that won’t make sense to the customer. It’s also important that the information provided on the phone or webchat is congruent with what’s written in the email.
So, if your customer service person verbally confirms that they now have insurance coverage, you want to ensure that the auto-generated confirmation email should only summarise what was discussed with the agent. Don’t send a mammoth email with formal instructions to fill out another form, request a confirmation code by mobile phone, provide two proofs of ID, choose from four options to receive email types, and include a “click here” button to join your rewards program or buy other products.
And, of course, it goes with saying that your communications should never (ever!) contain spelling or grammatical mistakes.
3. Simplify your communications
Above all, avoid jargon, acronyms, big words and long-winded sentences.
This doesn’t mean “talking down” to people as if they are simple. It means communicating plainly.
- Consider replacing the phrase “execute a strategy” with “get something done.”
- Review your IVR prompts and make sure the language is simple and quick. Replace “To request a copy of your latest bill, make a payment over the phone or speak to us about a query on your account then press 1” with “For billing, payment and accounts queries, press 1”
Train your team not to use jargon or acronyms in verbal or written communications. To customers and ‘outsiders’ these have no meaning, and can give the impression of being talked down to and being purposefully confused.
The use of acronyms has become widespread as a speaking or writing shortcut. But not only do acronyms annoy those who aren’t familiar with their meaning, in some situations they can be misinterpreted to mean something else.
Here’s a list of common acronyms, and the multiple meanings each one can have (and this list was culled to include only the most popular meanings for each acronym!)
- AP: Access Point, Asia-Pacific, Accounts Payable, Assistant Professor, Authors Proof, Annualised Premium
- BA: Bachelor of Arts, Business Advisor, Business Analyst, British Airways, Building Approval
- DM: Direct Message, Direct Mail, Data Mining, Data Management, Document Management Deutsche Mark, District Manager
- HD: Hard Drive, Hard Disk, High-Definition, Heavy Duty, High Density, Home Delivery
- IP: Internet Provider, Internet Protocol, Intellectual Property, Investment Portfolio,
- KB: Kilobyte, Knowledge Base, Keyboard, Kick Boxing,
- MS: Manuscript, Master of Science, Multiple Sclerosis, Microsoft, Mail Server, Management System,
- PDS: Product Disclosure Statement, Product Data Sheet, Partitioned Data Set, Platform Delivery System, Product Design Standards, Professional Development Suite, Project Design Specifications
- PM: Post Meridiem, Project Manager, Program Manager, Product Manager, Prime Minister, Preventive Maintenance, Postmaster, Post Mortem, Personal Message
- PO: Post Office, Purchase Order, Petty Officer, Project Officer
- PR: Public Relations, Press Release, Purchase Request, Performance Review, Page Rank (in Google)
- QA: Quality Assurance, Question Answering
- RFD: Request For Discussion, Request For Discussion, Radio Frequency Distribution, Rural Free Delivery
- RFP: Request for Proposal, Request for Payment,
- SME: Subject Matter Expert or Small and Medium Enterprises,
- VM: Virtual Machine, Virtual Memory, Voice Message, Video Monitor, Visual Merchandising, Vendor Management, Vehicle Maintenance,
- VOC: Voice Of The Customer, Volatile Organic Compound, Vocational, Vehicle Operating Cost, Vendor of Choice, Voltage Open Circuit
The interpretation of the meaning of an acronym really does depend on the audience and context.
If you must use acronyms – use the technique of Principle of First Reference: a practice which the professionals use which involves spelling out a term in full before using the acronym, then using the acronym further on in the written communication.
EG: “For full technical specifications and safety details, please see the enclosed Product Data Sheet (PDS). The PDS also contains details of our Warranty.”
Follow the KISS principle
Yep – another acronym. Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is a very wise acronym to follow – particularly when it comes to communicating.
- Consider listening to a few of your longer customer call recordings and see if communication issues and misunderstandings were at play. Therein could lie a training need.
- Consider reviewing some of the common questions that customers ask on webchat or when they call. Is there a topic of misunderstanding that occurs regularly? Where is the source of the misunderstanding? In retail outlets, on your website, in your emails, in your Terms?
A great rule of thumb before preparing any communication- be it an IVR system, a phone script, an email or information on a website is to give it the 15-year old test. Show it to a 15-year old, and ask them to summarise what they think it’s about. If they can’t understand it, edit it until they can.