Estimated read time: 5 minutes
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Written communication skills can be a challenge. One that is also easily overlooked. This topic first came up to me when I worked with nonprofits. United Way offered the 2-1-1 phone service. People call in with questions, talk to somebody and get answers. Verbally.
It was suggested that perhaps the service should be expanded to text-based communication. That sounds great but the skills to have a verbal conversation are different from having excellent written communication skills. Today, United Way does offer a text-based chat that appears to be handled by certain United Way offices.
Text your ZIP code to 898211, and the proper United Way will respond to your questions.
I’m glad that United Way has added that feature and I would say that consumers as a whole expect to be able to chat with companies and organizations that way. But that means employees communicating that way need to have the right skills.
What are good written communication skills?
Good written communication skills hit the right level:
- understand that all that needs to come through in the written word.
The person we talk to can’t see your body language or hear your voice’s inflection and tone. So all that somehow has to come through via the written word.
Why is some written communication so bad?
Some reasons that come to mind are that the writer doesn’t:
- understand how it sounds
- care how it sounds
- get the proper coaching
- listen to feedback
- speak the language natively and/or does not understand the subtleties
Sometimes, whoever is communicating in writing has the goal of getting their thoughts out instead of influencing or communicating well with the recipient.
Think of when people rant online. Is their point really to share something valuable? Or are they just venting?
When talking to customers online, is your goal to win the argument and be right or to try to understand and be helpful?
Sometimes, these less-than-useful goals aren’t even deliberate. Instead, people end up in them because they get caught up in the moment.
Who should care about written communication?
This article was prompted by some customer service chats I had. Chatbot customer support is becoming more and more of a thing. And waiting for a chatbot customer support agent to get back to me is much less annoying than being on hold on the phone with some crappy hold music.
Read next: What is conversational marketing?
In reality, anyone who communicates with anyone else through the written word should work on their communication skills in that channel.
How to improve written communications?
Years ago, at times, I would run important emails by somebody else for a second set of eyes. That’s still a good idea, though, sometimes not feasible.
Also, keep in mind that you might have to think about what somebody’s feedback is saying. For example, somebody once told me that an email was straightforward. Okay. Noted. But what was the point of the email? Was it supposed to be direct and to the point? Or was it supposed to do something else?
So any communication depends on the goal of that communication. For example, what’s the goal for the rep when a rep talks with a customer through a chatbot? Several come to mind:
- To be as helpful and empathetic as possible. ✅
- Explain the rules – no matter what! 🛑
- Be right and make sure the customer knows.🛑
- Get conversations done quickly.🛑
The customer certainly isn’t always right, but that doesn’t mean we can’t show empathy, use non-aggressive language and be human. The goal should be to be helpful, understanding and have a professional tone.
Many things start with awareness. For example, I probably won’t focus on losing weight until I’m aware that I need to be shedding some pounds. The same is valid here.
- Are we aware of how our brand is perceived?
- Do we know how our reps talk with customers?
- Did we provide them with the proper training?
- Do they know how to catch themselves going into a negative-responses rabbit hole?
- Did we hire the right people that can keep the right tone and helpfulness – even in stressful situations?
Then indeed, we need to work on the implementation. That can include the proper ongoing training, monitoring and addressing communications, and finding other ways to communicate well through the written word.
One way to do that is to get instant feedback through technology solutions. I use Grammarly to get an instant check on how people may read my content.
For example, this article as I’m writing is currently showing these tones:
It’s close to how I’m feeling. I’m confident that I have some tips that are worth sharing. I do indeed disapprove of rude and unempathetic written communication with customers. I’m not sure that I’m sad, though.
Either way, this current check of the tone that I’m using gives me an instant feedback loop of how my content is coming across. Customer service reps can do the same. Don’t want to sound too direct or disapproving, check your text’s tone and update the content before sending it.
As I kept writing and updating, I was able to get the tone to be formal, gloomy, and confident. Gloomy is an improvement, in my opinion.
But, I could probably still get the content friendlier. So I kept working on my tone, the words I picked and checking in on the detected tones. Finally, I ended up with friendly, confident, and optimistic tones.
There are also specific terminologies that are overly aggressive, to begin with, like:
- As I’ve previously mentioned several times…
- As you should be aware of…
- Per my previous email…
- I don’t care…
Checking customer perceptions of your skills
After people talk with your company find out how it went. For example, when I call American Airlines, I give a quick survey by pushing 1 for good and 2 for bad at the end of a call. You can also ask your customers to leave a short video response.
Indeed, automated responses can help us funnel consumer interactions to the right people. But once customers are talking to actual employees in a chat, it’s so important that those employees understand the basics and can implement good written communication.