Why “How You Sound” Matters to the Customer

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearpark
Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearpark

How do you sound to the customer?

Customers are engaging your brand in more than one channel and especially on their phones. That means that the same customer might be talking to you on email, on Twitter, via phone, or in some other channel – at any moment. It’s important to consider how you sound to customers when they contact you. They react to what they hear and read, not just to what you meant when you said it or wrote it.

Increasingly, the best place to interact with that the customer is inside your native app. You’ve already got their attention if they are using your app, so why not consider that location a channel that’s just as important (or more so) than email, Twitter, or phone? How you sound when you interrupt your customer’s app use has to be friendly, informative, and useful.

Companies are struggling with who holds the brand's megaphone and impacts how the company sounds

Who is speaking for your company and how?

By using the term “How You Sound” I mean the words you use and how the experience feels to the customer (as if they were talking to you on a phone or in person). When you talk to the customer across different channels, that customer measures your performance by where you provide the worst experience. If you’re going to talk to customers in your app, on Email, via Phone, and by Twitter, the tone and message should be appropriate for that channel yet still seem like your brand.

You get to the goal of “How We Sound” by building the experience you want the customer to feel, and then by checking how it feels in each channel. You can do this by standardizing (and specializing) the content, and by setting up a workflow that allows for success in each channel. To use a programming metaphor, the subclass of each interaction channel might not implement service-specific methods, and you should always ensure that the prototype methods (contactMe() and IveGotAProblem()) are easy to find in every channel.

What matters most to “How You Sound”?

Most people instinctively feel that a brand should look consistent when you encounter it in a different medium – think of the logos we use and the color schemes that ensure that a web experience “feels” like the mobile experience as well – and have a harder time extrapolating that feeling to other parts of the service experience. They just know that something feels “wrong” or “unprofessional.”

Using a common language

The best method you have for ensuring a common experience is to use common nouns, verbs, and sentences in your service design. When you are referring to the customer, always use the same words. When you ask the customer to do something, use consistent nouns to describe the parts of your product or service. Customers will need to use these terms as a “grammar” to assemble the pieces of your service experience into the “sentences” that solve their problems. If they need to know how to “Add” a “User” to have the rights to view a “Filter” as a way of making sure a certain customer can see certain information, you need to make the procedure and steps to get this done really clear.

Using a common method of handling

Using common language is a great place to start in your service design when you want to make the experience consistent across channels. You should also think about the information you need in each channel to identify the customer, to understand what they need, and to tie their other contacts together.

When a customer contacts you on Twitter, you should already know that this is the same customer who has an open support case, or the same customer who bought a product or service from your company, and that you can respond to them in a channel-appropriate method.

What’s a channel-appropriate response?

This is a fancy way of saying that you shouldn’t share information in public channels (like Twitter) that people wouldn’t want to share. So while you might respond to someone’s request for help on Twitter with “Sorry to hear you’re having issues. We’ve got it – will follow up via dm or email,” you should limit the sending private information that the customer doesn’t want to make public.

And Don’t Cross the Streams unless the customer does it first. If the customer responds to you in email, they probably want a private response. On the other hand, they might send up a message flare on Twitter when they’d prefer that you pay attention to them RIGHT NOW. Use your best judgement and you should get close to the tone, speed, and privacy that your customer prefers. The customer who often emails you might be fine with a Twitter Direct Message if they’ve contacted you this way before; and if they’ve never Tweeted at you or DMed you, perhaps you should stick to email or phone.

What’s the Goal of “How We Sound”?

You want to deliver the confidence that the experience will feel the same to the customer (and to you) no matter what the contact method. Today you might be having conversations with the customer in channels called “Phone,” “Email,” and “Twitter.” Tomorrow the names of those channels might be a lot different, and might require different inputs (Smell-o-vision, anyone?) The interaction challenge will be the same.

When you respond in a way that feels consistent to the customer, you’re well positioned to add new interaction channels that sound the same, no matter where they appear. And that consistency and emotional experience is the thing that builds and reinforces your brand.

this post originally appeared on the Apptentive Blog.



Understanding the Startup of You

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/expressmonorail

Are you still doing the things you thought were going to be hard when you envisioned your role? Can you imagine someone else doing that job and explaining how it works to them? Are you learning new things and meeting new people?

Because you really need to be working yourself out of your current job (not in a bad way – don’t take the implication that you should sit around all day not doing things that people ask you to do while eating bonbons – but rather in a creatively destructive way, like what happens in a forest after a cleansing fire clears the undergrowth.) The current responsibility that you do is becoming more familiar every day, and unless you relentlessly chase newness (both in terms of the information you take in and in the way that you do it) you run the risk of becoming stuck.

What are some ways of creating your next opportunity within your current role (or adjacent to it?) Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha have some great ideas in their book The Startup of You that might point you in some interesting directions.Reed and Ben advocate expanding your current interests and making an aggressive effort to meet new people; trying new things that have potentially high value and low(er) risk; and understanding your true risk tolerance so that you can decide whether to make a new role out of a current one or create a new one overall.

One of the best ways to reinvigorate your existing role and to “level up” for the next phase of this opportunity is to challenge yourself by making a practice of meeting successful people. You might choose to seek out people in your own field; find someone in a different field entirely, or to build new bridges to new fields by meeting new people. Begin by offering, “how can I help?” and really listen to the answer. You may find that you can help the other person directly, or that you may know of someone else in your network who may be able to help them.

This is also a great opportunity to run a personal a/b test of your unique abilities. You have something to offer – your thoughts, experiences, and perspective, and meeting someone new is also a great way to practice your pitch and to see whether the ideas you think you’re sharing are the one’s you actually are sharing. Then, ask a single question of your new acquaintance: “what’s one thing that I could be doing to improve this idea?” and really listen to the answer. Keep doing this at least a few times a month and you will improve your ability to communicate (and learn important insights about your pitch or idea at the same time.)

It doesn’t take much to give back

A newly painted foursquare court at Bryant Elementary in San Francisco

Who wouldn’t like to have fun in a playground game where the playground looks like this?

This week I had the opportunity to participate in a community event courtesy of the folks at the Salesforce.com foundation and my team at Desk.com. In the span of half a day (and with the help of the folks at Playworks, we transformed a dull-looking outdoor playground into a vibrant place where kids can have fun.

Yep, you say – kids can have fun anywhere – and that’s true. Yet there’s something different about an environment where school kids see grownups kneeling on the blacktop, taking the time to make their playground cool, and having fun doing it. For us, this was just a day in the sun having a good time where we learned more about our teammates and did some painting.

And it was a bit more too, because when the staff of the school walked by and said “Thank you – this looks great” and the kids ran by, stopped, and said “Thank you!” we realized we were doing something more than just painting. We were giving a little bit of ourselves to this school, and the people who work and go to school there every day noticed and appreciated our effort.

So thank you to the team, the foundation, and to the facilitators. I feel grateful for being able to make this playground a bit more colorful. It’s a great reminder to all of us to spend more of our time engaging offline with real people in person as well as sharing our thoughts, photos, and ideas online.

Just because it’s easy for you …

Otis Cafe, Otis, OR

“Just because it’s easy for you doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone.” –Ed Epping, Williams College

It’s been a lot of years now since I heard these words during a drawing class — it was valuable advice then, and I believe it’s even more valuable now — and it’s a great framing device for understanding more about how you fit in the world, how others think, and what they do well that you haven’t yet noticed.

When something is easy, it feels like fun

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written about the feeling of flow, calling it “a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill…”  I interpret this as the feeling of fun, of knowing that you can answer all questions about a given topic, that you are truly in the moment, and that it all just … feels easy.  The hardest thing about feeling that something is easy is that it’s not always easy to share that feeling — people have different learning styles that might not mesh with your own sharing or teaching style — and that other people might not find it, well, fun.

Conversely, when something is hard, it feels like drudgery

I don’t mean to suggest that people shouldn’t do hard work.  Rather, I mean to suggest that when something feels like drudgery, it just might not be fun.  People can see the effort in your face, in the way you react, and in the way that you talk and express yourself.  The easiest thing about something hard is that you feel that it might last forever (not true, most of the time) and that it’s easy to just give up.

Find the people who are having fun, and ask them why

So find the people around you who are having fun.  Ask them more about what they do and why it’s fun.  The answer might not be for you, but it will give you valuable insights as to that person’s place in the world, the way they view themselves, and how they contribute to your organization or team.  It will also give you excellent insight into how you can help them, how you can share your fun experiences with them (and in what style), and who knows?  You might learn something.

There are experts all around you — you may not have met them yet, but they are a wealth of experience, expertise, and insight.  Find a few of these people every day and you will find yourself experiencing flow more often — it will be the flow of finding out how your team fits together.  Also, even if they think what you do is hard, they’ve got something that’s easy for them to do that they might like to share more about with you.  (If you’re wondering, you can ask me about photography or drawing anytime.)

Be Like LeBron: What do you do with one second left?

Last night’s Cleveland Cavaliers-Orlando Magic NBA game is now passing into the annals of sports “classics”, primarily because of the duel that Hedo Turkoglu of the Magic and LeBron James of the Cavaliers fought over the last minute or so of the game. At :30, LeBron was called for travelling — a crucial turnover — and the game was in the hands of the Magic. Hedo hit a runner in the lane with :03 remaining. So with :01 on the clock, it was up to LeBron. Inbounds comes the pass. James gets the ball, fades and shoots in one motion. The world stops. And. Cavs Win!

What do you do with one second left? It looks like last second heroics happen just because of luck, but there is a substantial component of strategy, planning, and ability that happens in most tasks before the luck can be of any use. The concept of strengths-based leadership helps to think about this challenge. What are the abilities that will allow you to “take the shot” with one second left and believe (accurately) that the basket you are shooting at is attainable?

Strengths-Based Leadership is the latest book from Gallup regarding the technique of accentuating your strengths and improving your weaknesses at least to the point where they don’t get in your way. In NBA basketball there are rebounding specialists, point guards, “grinders”, scorers, and all-around superstars. A lot of longitudinal research at Gallup has shown that similar divisions exist in the work world. This may seem obvious, but how many times have you had a performance review where your superior told you about the things you could have been doing better, instead of leading with the unique things you did that provided value to your organization? Trying to make a “grinder” into a superstar won’t work too well; and vice-versa. The key is finding out what abilities you have that will allow you to make the equivalent of the last second shot when it presents itself.

Ok, great — you say. How do you know what your organization needs to make the last-second shot? The answer is: you’re probably doing it already, but not recognizing where it’s critical. The next time the opportunity comes, it’s going to involve elements of something you already know. Using those skills to create, communicate, and deliver unique value will make you feel like LeBron: able to come through when the game is on the line. You may not be the savior of Cleveland and poised to deliver the first sports championship in 40 years, but you will have made the equivalent of the last-second shot by focusing on what you do well and how to deliver it.

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