Which team has the biggest impact on how customers feel about your brand?
Marketing might argue it’s them – after all, it’s their job. So it’s no surprise that brand teams put marketing copy under the microscope, to make sure it’s delivering a consistent brand experience.
But what about the contact centre?
Contact centre teams write direct, personal messages to customers every day. They have a captive audience – customers who are actually waiting for their response. They’re also in a dialogue. By comparison, most marketing messages are one-way and impersonal.
(I should point out that by contact centre, I mean any team that writes directly to customers, such as complaint handling and customer service/experience).
You could argue that these teams create a more powerful brand experience than marketing. For example, what makes the biggest difference to how a customer feels about a brand: a click-through banner that sells them a holiday, or a reassuring email they get after falling ill while they’re away?
OK, I’m using a negative experience to make this point. But one of the most powerful ways to build trust (trust: an old-fashioned word for ‘brand engagement’) is to help your customers when things have gone wrong.
Given how much contact centres shape customers’ perception of brands, why aren’t brand teams more interested in them? Why do brand teams scrutinize marketing emails, tweets and Instagram posts but ignore the hundreds of letters, emails, live chats and social media replies their contact centres send out every day?
Apart from when they’re speaking on the phones, contact centre agents spend much of their time writing. They don’t have visuals, body language or even the sound of their voice to give the customer a great experience. They only have words.
This is where brand teams can help. It’s not enough to email a copy of your tone of voice guidelines and hope for the best. Working together and offering practical support is vital if you want your contact centre teams to express your brand when they write to customers.
The benefits of putting your brand voice into the contact centre
The first benefit, of course, is that it makes your customers’ experience better. An email written in your brand voice is always going to make for a more positive experience than one that’s impersonal and full of jargon, which is often the case with contact centre emails.
The second benefit is consistency. If a customer gets an email that sounds different to say, the copy on your website, they’ll feel cheated. But if you use the same tone in a complaint letter as a marketing message (with a few tweaks), your customer knows they’re communicating with the same company, and that builds trust.
The other big benefit is less obvious but no less powerful: helping contact centre teams with their writing boosts their productivity, confidence and even improves their wellbeing.
I say this from lots of experience working with contact centre teams. Only a minority feel confident about writing, never mind ‘brand writing’. That means many contact centre agents spend a large part of their working life doing something they’re unsure about or, worse still, performing a role that makes them feel confused and anxious.
By helping your contact centre teams with their writing, you take away that uncertainty and help them feel good about their role.
Contact centre teams can also feel alienated from ‘brand’. They feel it’s something for marketing and comms, not what they write. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Contact centre teams are the brand in the eyes of customers.
By giving your contact centre teams the tools and training they need to write in your tone of voice, you’ll also help them connect with your brand. They’ll see how the things they write to customers express the wider values of the company, which helps them to feel like brand advocates – not just messengers.
Here are five ways you can make sure your brand tone of voice comes through every message your contact centre teams send.
1. Audit your customer communications
If you don’t have one, create a simple set of criteria from your brand tone of voice, which you can use to audit your contact centre’s communications.
Look at a sample of letters, emails, live chats and social media messages. How closely do they match up to your brand? Where are the gaps? What’s the difference in tone between these and a marketing message? This audit will show you the different messages your customers get and what support the contact centre needs.
2. Adapt your guidelines for contact centre teams
If you don’t adapt your brand tone of voice for customer service and complaint handling, you risk undermining your brand. For example, ‘a dash of cheeky wit’ might be in your brand guidelines, but adding wit to a complaint letter is clearly asking for trouble. Even a seemingly innocuous principle like ‘be informal’ can be problematic for contact centres. How informal is informal? What does that mean?
Show your contact centre teams how to apply your tone of voice to their writing by giving them tone of voice guidelines that are based specifically on the things they write. And make sure there are lots of practical tips and real examples. Remember that contact centres are staffed by hundreds of people. The more people, the clearer the guidelines need to be to stop them being misinterpreted.
3. Run writing training and coaching
Guidelines are helpful as a reference, but you won’t change the ingrained habits of contact centre teams unless you give them practical support with their writing. Focus on the trickiest messages, like saying no and saying sorry. Start with training and follow it up with regular coaching, to help the new skills stick. Identify champions who can help give feedback day to day.
4. Build tone of voice into the quality assessment
Many contact centre teams are driven by the scores and feedback they get from their quality assessments. So if your brand isn’t part of this quality assessment, your teams won’t have the knowledge or even the incentive to apply it to their day-to-day role.
Many quality assessments I see are hot on process and policy, but a bit sketchy when it comes to tone and style. This is where brand teams can really help, by breaking down tone of voice. By adding this to quality assessments, assessors know exactly what they’re looking for when it comes to the way the message is written, not just what is written.
5. Talk words
In many organisations, brand teams and contact centres don’t work together very often – or not often enough. They’re often based in different buildings, different regions or even in different countries. But don’t let that stop you. Whether you work in brand or in a contact centre, pick up the phone and have a chat about writing to customers. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve together.