Can Better Grammar Improve Customer Service?
Chat, email, text messages, and blogs are all viewed as less formal than other forms of writing, but in a corporate context they are still professional exchanges and should be treated as such. Standard, formal sentences aren’t necessary in a fast-paced chat, but proper spelling and punctuation is a must for clarity in an email exchange. One quick and easy aid is to provide agents with online spelling and grammar checking tools and then train and encourage them to use those tools.
Another way to develop stronger in-house writing skills is to pair agents who have strong English writing skills with those who have problems constructing sentences. The less skilled writers can see correct usage and mimic those skills.
In some cases, companies hire editors to read, edit, and ultimately approve all outgoing communications, so consistent rules are followed, according to Call Center Today’s Coen.
One noteworthy challenge is communications’ dynamic nature: Rules governing spelling and grammar change regularly and quite quickly. Some of the rules of five, 10, and 20 years ago are no longer followed as religiously, or are bent often, creating frustration for individuals trying to write well with any kind of consistency.
Compounding the problem, changes often are subjective. Dictionary publishers monitor word usage and then arbitrarily decide if usage has become widespread enough to no longer warrant dismissing a word or phrase as slang. That’s how words like selfie, binge watching, bitcoin, and twerking have made it into the common vernacular in just the past few years.
In addition to words, other Internet communication aids, like emoticons, are also subjective in their usage. Some companies view them as appropriate; others would be appalled at their use.
In today’s rapidly changing, social media–driven world, such imprecise guidelines can be confusing. Generally, the older the channel, the less likely it is that people would deem common social media terms appropriate. eWrite’s O’Flahavan sets the formality hierarchy as letter, email, chat, and SMS (or Twitter).
But ultimately, any rules are subjective, so each business needs to craft its own set of writing standards. “Brooks Brothers’ Twitter account sounds much different than JackThreads’ account,” O’Flahavan says. The two firms have distinct voices that appeal to different types of consumers.
To develop their own voices, companies need to focus on big-picture and small-picture items, O’Flahavan adds. The big picture revolves around developing a strong corporate image: to whom the company is selling and the value it offers them. The small picture involves mechanics, like spelling and grammar, to reinforce that image.
The move to identify and hone their corporate voices fits with companies’ desires to become less egocentric and more empathetic. However, expressing emotions effectively in written communication, especially new online forums, can be challenging. Some key phrases can help show empathy in writing, according to O’Flahavan. When appropriate, reps should say the following:
• “You’re right.”
• “I can definitely understand.”
• “I can see your point.”
• “That sounds difficult.”
Another suggestion is to have agents signal to customers when they need to wait. In many chats, customers and agents sometimes must step away to get information. Good writing makes it clear to customers when a short wait period is required or when the agent is waiting for them. Consequently, agents are encouraged to say something along these lines: “Please give me one moment to check the status.”
Finally, employees need to concede when they do not know something and respond in a way that lets the consumer know they are working on the problem. For instance, “Let me check my knowledge base to see whether there’s an update that would fix the problem you’re having” is a suitable response in such scenarios.
CREATING STRONG WRITERS
While companies are putting new processes in place to improve agent writing, the first step is hiring good communicators. The goal sounds simple, but “not many of us are good writers,” Fluss says.