The simplest and most important thing to know in being a good digital communicator is this: Talk to people as if you are both human beings.
You wouldn’t think people need lessons in acting human. But many of us assume a business façade at work. We put on our work attire, go to an office, sit in meetings and write memos or emails to customers, forgetting that we are human beings talking to other human beings. We speak a language filled with buzzwords, clichés and acronyms that we would never use with friends. Imagine inviting your guests to the dinner table with a statement like “please be advised that dinner is served.”
Once a new buzzword enters the corporate suite, everyone picks up on it because they feel it makes them sound more “professional.” Before you know it there’s a verbal epidemic. Everyone is recycling the same canned phrases. Then, when it comes time to communicate with customers, we speak to them this way as well.
Some examples of cringe-worthy phrases are statements like “kindly refer to our return policy” or “in the absence of an approval,” “we apologize in advance for . . .” and “your business (or your call) is important to us.”
Corporate speak is even rampant in person. Whenever I go to a trade show booth and ask a software company or agency what they do, nine times out of 10 they parrot some cookie cutter description with the words “leverage,” “synergy,” “cutting-edge,” “optimize,” “best practices” and “solution” in it that makes my eyeballs spin in opposite directions.
Buzzwords and acronyms may make you feel smarter, but this kind of communication is a problem for three reasons.
- It eliminates the need for you to think about what you are really trying to say. Recycling common phrases puts your communication on auto pilot.
- Jargon distances you from people by making you sound like a computer program.
- Worst of all—maybe this is all that matters—no one really knows what you are talking about. You are not communicating.
The stiff, uniform language of corporate speak is a vestige of the days when men all wore white shirts and dark suits to work and women wore black suits with sensible pumps and a non-descript cotton button down blouse. Being conventional, using mind-numbingly consistent phrases, and checking your humanity at the office door is a practice that won’t hold up in digital marketing. You are already once removed from other people online. Find a way to let the real personality behind the logo show through.
I recently had a series of email conversations with the customer service folks at Warby Parker. Their emails provided an example of an extremely warm and human communication style. I was trying to get my prescription verified by my optician in the midst of the Sandy storm during which the optician was closed for a week. I was also trying to figure out how to order my first pair of glasses online, which took a lot of back-and-forth. These are excerpts from several of their emails. I was truly charmed by the language (and of course tweeted about that fact).
The first email I received after contacting them included this paragraph:
I hope your new Warby Parkers make you jump for joy. If there’s anything at all I can help you with—shopping questions, eyewear questions, you name it—just let me know. I’m here to help.
Notice they don’t say “I trust you’ll be pleased with your purchase.” And you know what? That colorful image of jumping for joy was in my head when I did receive my glasses.
Then, it took several emails to get all the information they needed to fill my order. Instead of saying “kindly provide the following information” or “we still need the following” they said:
I just have one more question, I promise!
One of the pieces of information they needed required me to use an online tool they created to get a measurement for fitting the glasses. Here is how they asked:
To send your new frames to you at lightning speed, we’ll need this measurement. Luckily, it’s a cinch to get! Here are a couple of ways to do so . . .
Then, when I accidentally sent a prescription that they couldn’t fill (my fault, I should have known this from their site), they apologized and instead of saying, “please be advised that we don’t handle transitional lenses” or “kindly refer to line 6 of our policies and procedures” they said:
I’m very sorry about this hassle—nobody needs another hassle. When you have a free moment, let me know how you’d like to proceed, and call or email if you have any questions at all.
You see? Compassion, no subtle blame, no canned phrases, and helpful options.
Notice the use of “I” and “me” throughout instead of the corporate or royal “we.” I felt I was talking to . . . a human being! I was actually surprised to look back on the series of emails and discover that there were several different people representing the company in each one. I still felt that human connection with someone who cared and seemed to understand how I felt.
The best, most effective emails, social media posts, website copy and face-to-face conversations are not only simple and easy to understand, but they have signs of humanity. If, when you’re communicating with people you remember that you’re human and so are they, you’ll bring humor, empathy, and caring when you choose your words. Word-of-mouth marketing is the result of delighting and surprising customers. Sometimes all that’s necessary is to behave like a human being.
The Most Successful E-mail I Ever Wrote (the viral email that helped launch CD Baby)
The Intangible Element of Social Media Success (the personal qualities of a successful community manager)
Life Is Messy, Work Is Messy, Share it All (how to be open and real on social media)