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Client whispering – are we talking to our clients in words they want to hear?

I’m a consultant. But unlike many of my consultant colleagues, I don’t come from a substantial consulting background. I come from the other side of the fence…

The Client.

Clients are funny creatures. We look to consultancies for knowledge, advice and the latest industry best practice, but when they turn up to our offices with their laptops and tablets full of pre-prepared answers, we can be a bit wary.

Threatened even.

We tend to be on our guard, aware of our limited budgets and hoping they don’t get stretched too far.

After all, aren’t consultants always on the lookout for ways to part their clients from their hard earned revenue?

Often we find ourselves wondering what can they do that we can’t do ourselves? After all, we have Google.

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How our clients see us

This is the challenge every consultant is up against, every time you meet with a client – whether it’s the first pitch or the 5th workshop you’ve run in a 6-month project.

Clients will always look at you through a filter – “am I getting value for money from this person?” “can I or one of my team do this work for less?” “can I trust this person to do the work I need and not charge me for work I don’t need?”

To be a truly successful consultant we have to win our clients’ trust and keep winning it every time we interact with them.

Think of our clients as an Australian voter and you’ll understand what I mean.

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Do consultants really know our business?

Many years ago, I was the manager of an Australian software company’s global digital presence, my boss and I went out to the market, looking for some advice on how to improve uptake of a new product suite.

I’ll never forget the initial meeting we had with one of the consultancies we short-listed for the work.

Two suits walked in, suits that probably cost more than my car at the time. They shook us both by the hand, looked us in the eye and talked at us for 20 minutes straight. There were beautiful PowerPoint slides, with stylish graphics, there was talk of customer heuristics, competitor landscapes, marketing frameworks and a lot of “What you should do is….”.

Not once did they ask us a question.

After we’d thanked them for their time and walked them out to reception, my boss turned to me and asked “Do you think they even know what we sell?”

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When our colleagues ‘consultant’ us

OK, enough about consultants.

Let’s talk colleagues.

Let’s imagine, I say imagine because I’m sure this never happens to any of you, that you’ve had a particularly difficult time on a project. The team is very dysfunctional, there is a lot of infighting and you’re copping the brunt of the fallout.

It’s not a complete crisis. You’re fairly sure you can manage it, but you could do with a bit of advice and support from someone who’s been in this situation.

Fortunately, it’s Friday night drinks at the office. A few glasses of red and a download is just what you need.

Back at the office, drinks are in full swing. You grab a glass of Merlot and plunge in. 

One sip into your drink, you get chatting with Nic. Nic’s been talking to another person on your project and has heard about your team issues. Nic’s been with the company for a few years now and has a lot of suggestions for you.

For the next 10 minutes you hear a lot of. What I’d do is…  You need to….  Oh that’s a real problem. That could really impact the project. You have to…  If you don’t fix this, it could  ….

All good advice. But now you need another glass of red!

At the drinks table, you bump into Toni. You’ve always looked up to Toni. It’s hard not to be impressed by a person who has delivered that many successful projects.

Two sips in, Toni asks you if anything’s up. You look a bit stressed. To start with you don’t say much – who wants to admit to such a successful person that things are going badly on your project? But as you talk, Toni draws you out. You find yourself talking through the situation and, with a few pertinent questions and subtle suggestions from Toni, you think you know what’s causing the issues and what might alleviate the situation.

Who are you going to turn to the next time you have issues on a project?

Nic or Toni

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When language becomes the communication blocker

One of the things that always used to bug me as a client of consultants was the jargon. Half the time I felt like I needed a dictionary or Google to understand what they were telling me. This used to intimidate me a bit – sometimes I’d leave vendor meetings feeling like I was a bit stupid.

Then I realised the motivation behind it.

Imagine you’re in your car and it starts making a funny noise. You’re a sensible car owner, so you drop it off at the garage. Later that day they call you and say the bushes on your radius rods are worn and your thrust race is possibly on the way out. It’ll cost $800 for parts and labour, are you happy to proceed?

Yes? No? What’s a radius rod? 

And when the blocker follows you to around

After forking out that much money on the car, you need a drink! So you swing by your local, to partake of your favourite beverage. Everyone around you is talking about a hurling game that finished on Foxtel just before you walked in. Hurling is a sport you know nothing about. No one explains the rules to you or who the players are, they’re too busy discussing the finer points of the game.

How do you feel?

That drink is looking like your only friend right now, isn’t it?

Two situations where people used language you didn’t understand. For two different reasons, but the effect was the same.

  • Our friend the mechanic was using technical language to justify a rather sizeable bill.
  • Our friends in the pub were speaking the language of a tribe – the tribe of hurling. 

Both situations will leave you feeling a bit isolated and out of the loop, not a pleasant feeling. Something to keep in mind when talking to our clients.

We may find that they are completely comfortable with our jargon – just as I am fairly confident my car-loving husband knows exactly what a radius rod is and why you’d be concerned about your thrust race – or they may not

They may even be Hurling fans.

There is only one way to find out.

Ask them. Listen. Adjust your language to match theirs.

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Why consulting can be a lot like online dating

I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept that consulting is all about building relationships, but let’s unpack that for a moment. What does building a relationship really entail.

The first thing I think of when someone uses the phrase “building relationships”, is romantic relationships (you know dating and stuff). And when you think about it, there are a lot of parallels:

  • The song and dance we go through before a first date is not that different from preparing for a client proposal.
  • Waiting for a client to get back to us afterwards is very much like the “will he/she call” – and it can have the same life changing impact (as I’m sure Upen would attest).

The parallels continue:

  • The thrill of acceptance when they say yes.
  • Growing confidence as you spend more time together, finding areas of commonality, developing your own “in crowd” language.

But there is one major difference – well OK two – there are certain behaviours expected in a dating relationship that would probably get you kicked off a client site.

The other major difference is a fairly critical one. A romantic ‘dating’ relationship grows out of mutual attraction – it’s a two-way consensual relationship. A consulting relationship is decidedly one way – the client is in control.

So it’s up to us consultants to attract the client and keep them attracted.

Let’s imagine we’re the client, and several someones are trying to attract us:

Someone 1.

First we meet someone #1. Sharp dresser – subtle but classy suit and a scent that leaves you thinking of 6 star hotels. Not an unpleasant addition to the decor! And when they open their mouths, oh the charm!! They’ve swallowed the etiquette book!  Yes, they know their stuff.

Once you get talking, it’s hard to find anything they haven’t done. Banking, insurance, utilities, construction, logistics – they’ve worked across the board – and always at the c-suite level. Business strategy, digital transformation, innovation, change management – they’ve set the standard in every discipline. And in their spare time, it turns out they’ve swum with sharks and bungeed the Grand Canyon.

You leave the meeting feeling rather dazed and not quite up to their standard.

Someone 2.

Now we sit down with someone #2. Another snazzy dresser, also very easy on the eyes and the nose. And very interested in you. Over a couple of long blacks, you’re skilfully interviewed about your business strategy, past performance, areas of difficulty and the measures you’ve put in place to address them.

Comments they drop into the conversation show they’ve researched your company – they quote your CEO from last week’s ABR. They know how well your share price has performed over the last year. After an hour, you realise you’ve gone over time and you didn’t even notice. You spent most of the time talking about your business area, what you’ve achieved and where you’d like to take it in the future – to an audience who seemed informed and really interested.

Who’s getting the second interview?

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Moving to a longer term (consulting) relationship

But relationships aren’t all about initial attraction. Ask any married person, the spark only lasts so long. After that you need a few more tools in your kit.

Whether you’re working on your marriage or your client relationship, there are key things you need to build and maintain:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Understanding

And again, it’s up to you, the consultant, to make sure these things are built and maintained.

Let’s use the marriage metaphor to explore this a bit – let’s see how those of you who are married answer, vs those who aren’t….

After 3 years in your current role, you realise you’re not happy in your job. It’s very stressful and you’re working long hours which doesn’t leave much time for the family. But the role pays well, very well. You’re way ahead on the mortgage and you’ve managed two overseas holidays in the last year.

So you sit down with the other half to discuss your options. Let’s look at two ways this could do down:

Conversation 1.

You talk about how stressed you are and how you’re finding it harder and harder to get up in the morning and go to work. Your other half listens, comments that they had noticed you were not your usual self and starts to talk through options.

You say that, really, you’d like to leave the role and find something less stressful. Your spouse is concerned about the loss of income but starts to suggest ways you both can economise. They ask you if you can last in the role long enough to adjust your budgeting to adapt to a lower income. They also suggest that maybe you could talk to your manager about making your current role less demanding or finding ways to reduce the stress.

Conversation 2.

Starts the same way, with you expressing your dissatisfaction with your job. Your spouse listens but seems to be distracted. When you finish explaining the situation and how you feel, your other half sits for a moment and then tells you that right now you can’t afford to give up your job.

They assure you that there are ways to deal with stress and the family is OK with your long hours. After all you’ve had those lovely overseas holidays. After that, the conversation loses momentum and you turn to other subjects.

Later that week you find out that your spouse has told your family that you’re really busy at work right not so they shouldn’t tell you that they miss you being at home.

Which conversation is would you prefer to have?

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Whispering the right words

Each one of these examples is a parallel for a situation we consultants can put our clients into.

  • Focusing more on demonstrating our knowledge than their needs.
  • Presenting solutions, rather than listening to problems – the ones they DON’T know about as well as the ones they do.
  • Using the latest lingo, or jargon we’re comfortable with, and not checking if the client understands.
  • Making decisions for our clients because we KNOW its right for them or the project.

So what does all this say about a client / consultant relationship?

  1. Consulting is not all about us, what we know or the latest theory we’ve read about – it’s about our clients, what they need and the problem they are trying to solve.
  2. Good consultants take the time to listen to their clients, empathise with their situation and work WITH them to find solutions. Understand that the project we’re delivering is just a part of a bigger picture – their business.
  3. Language is vitally important. It is, after all, our primary means of communication. We need to make sure the language we use is our client’s language, not just ours.
  4. Just like we do with our better halves. We need to put the client at the centre of what we do – it is our job to make them feel like they most important person in the room, the hottest ticket in town and the most interesting project in our lives.

So, when we find ourselves short-cutting a client conversation to save time and get to an outcome or drive a project goal or when we feel we have all the answers and want to jump straight to presenting a solution to our client – we need to remember – they can swipe left any time they like.

Featured post

Do we really want to be ‘equal’ at work?

Workplace equality. The holy grail of every forward-thinking company.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a workplace where women are paid equally, treated equally and represented equally at all levels (particularly the higher ones)?

We’ve all asked for it, campaigned for it, protested for it (well I have, but then I was quite feisty at Uni) and hoped that “one day” it might be a reality.

But sometimes I wonder.

I’m a big fan of the ‘paid equally’ bit and a huge fan of the ‘represented equally’ part – I’ve read no end of studies that show how companies and employees thrive when managed by women – but I wonder if the treated equally bit is all it’s cracked up to be.

Not one of the boys

I’ve worked in the IT/Digital industry for the best part of 20 years. So it goes without saying I’ve worked with a lot of men. And I’ve watched how they treat each other.

I’ve also spent time around adolescent boys – I have two nephews and a step-son – and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the blokes in the boardroom and the boys in the schoolyard. (Sorry chaps, I don’t mean this as a put-down, merely a comparison).

The way our menfolk compete for dominance is remarkably similar to their adolescent selves. Very different from the way us girls interact.

Yes, we have our ways of competing but power and dominance are not our goals.

Some of the tricks my husband and his best mates play on each other, I wouldn’t try on my worst enemy.

Hierarchy and the pecking order are important to men. Whether you’re the smartest, tallest, strongest or simply the wittiest in the group, men need an “est” to define themselves.

They need to feel they stand out from the crowd.

Boys to men – they all need to prove themselves

If you look back over time, in almost every culture on earth, becoming a ‘man’ (transitioning from boy to man) meant a chap had to pass a series of ‘manly’ tests. You could be born male, but you had to earn the right to call yourself a man. These tests usually included proving strength, independence and the ability to survive ‘in the wild’.

Women just had to reach the age where we could conceive and bear a child (yeah, we just had to get our periods). Our ‘status’ didn’t really change. Same chores, same respect (or lack of) just more work – that would be the conceiving, bearing and raising children bit.

This hasn’t changed much down the years. Just look at 20th/21st pop culture and you’ll see two types of messaging:

Men should be: tall, strong, commanding, good at sport, the provider.

Women should be: pretty, caring, seductive, domestic, the nurturer.

It’s no wonder we’ve learned two different sets of behaviours. And certainly not surprising that this has led to different behaviours in the workplace.

And this is how it plays out at work

This brings me back to my ‘adolescent’ workmates. I’m sure you’ve met them. They’re the ones who always talk over each other in meetings and spend their free time arguing over who has the fastest car, loudest stereo or best gadgets, or who can eat the hottest Indian food.

Compare this with the women in the office – we listen more in meetings and our arguments are usually over who’s going to win “MKR” and where to get the best deals on the latest fashions. We may indulge in bitchy gossip now and then, but when we’re not picking holes in the fashion sense of the latest “Bachelorette” we’re swapping ideas on how to best navigate the ins and outs of the corporate jungle.

Sure we compete – we’re human after all – but we also support each other and swap strategies on how to succeed in the patriarchy.

Are we losing out by not competing?

Women and men play by different rules. Hell we play completely different games! Men take great pleasure in setting each other up to fail – look at the popularity of shows like “Punked”. They seem immune to insults, practical jokes and other humiliations their ‘friends’ inflict on them. They don’t get upset, they get even.

Women don’t tend to play such tricks on each other. (Yes, I know I’m generalising outrageously, bear with me.) Whether it’s because we find this behaviour childish and beneath us or whether we’re merely avoiding retaliation, we don’t feel the need to sabotage and undermine each other.

I wonder sometimes if this very lack of competitive behaviour in women is what is holding us back. Maybe if we competed more and spent less time looking after our sisters (and the bros) in the workplace, we might find workplace equality just happens naturally. We’d end up on top by playing the game man-style.

Certainly that is a strategy more of us could benefit from trying outside of work.

We’re certainly behind the 8-ball at home

Did you know that, according to the 2016 Australian Census figures, women do up to 14 hours’ unpaid domestic housework each week? Men reportedly do under five hours a week.

But wait, it gets worse. When men and women live together (ie shack up) women end up doing more domestic work and men end up doing less.

It is no wonder workplace equality is such a hot topic, we don’t even have workplace equality at home!

So what’s the answer?

Gosh I wish I knew! For an issue this big, I don’t think there is one answer. I do have some suggestions though.

  1. We women need to stand up and value our soft skills (and not see soft as a bad word). We’ve been the unsung heroes of the workplace for decades:
  • The secretaries without whom the boss could barely tie his shoelaces, let alone run the company.
  • The nurses who made doctors look good (and made sure patients didn’t die from neglect).
  • The teachers who taught all those little boys to read and write so they could become men.
  • The wives, mothers, housekeepers, hostesses, cooks, cleaners and waitresses who ran the household and made sure their husbands never wanted for a thing.
  • And the many other jobs we’ve taken on because no man would ‘lower’ himself to do women’s work.

It is time we recognised the work we put in – at home and work – and stopped belittling our own talents.

Stop letting men talk over us, talk down to us or talk for us – we’re capable of speaking up and making ourselves heard – in stand-ups, meetings, workshops and contract negotiations. If we don’t speak up, someone else (a man) will speak for us and our voices will never be heard. We’ll remain the (quiet) women behind the (louder) men.

  1. Let’s take them on at their own game and show them how to play. We’re in the workplace now, we’ve been watching the boys play their power games for decades. There is no reason why we can’t play those games and make the rules suit us.We don’t need to drive a faster car, have a bigger desk or drink more alcohol to ‘win’ in the boyish games. We have skills and tools they’ll never have. We might as well use them 😉

    Let me tell you about a workmate of mine. She’s beautiful, very feminine and she dresses to take advantage of her every curve. She prides herself on being ‘high maintenance’ to the point where I’ve nicknamed her ‘Princess’.

    You’d think that this paragon of womanhood could be belittled or sidelined by our XY colleagues. “She’s too pretty to take seriously.” “She wouldn’t want to break a nail by working hard.”

    On the contrary my friends. Princess holds her own with senior management on a daily basis. She owns her beauty and her high maintenance exterior and wields it as a weapon in her arsenal of workplace tools. No man can withstand her combination of pin-point perfect presentation, needle sharp wit and sheer hard work.

    If she can do it, ladies so can we.

  1. But it’s not all up to us. Our friends in the testosterone camp have work to do too (and if they want their dinner on time and not in the rubbish, they’ll get that work done).I don’t think I need to tell you that workplace inequality is not of our making. The boys created this situation so they need to put some work in to change it.

    They may need a bit of education from us, but that’s nothing new. We teach them everything else – from tying their shoelaces to how to dress for a first date – we might as well give them some tips here too.

    For us women to be truly equal in the workplace, our natural skill-sets need to have equal value and status in that workplace. The male tools of aggression, posturing, one-up-man-ship and ‘length’ comparison need to make room for more female tools like communication, compassion and understanding.

    We put in as effort into work as they do (sometimes more, when you think of all we have to do just to just GET into work) we need to credit ourselves for that and work with our menfolk so they credit it too.

Thanks to the Institute of Entrepreneurship Development https://ied.eu for the awesome image.

Hitting the mark with humour

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I have a very quirky sense of humour. It keeps me entertained and it can be very useful in business situations. But not everyone gets my jokes.

So I have to do some careful ground work to make sure my one-liners warm the room, rather than fall flat at my feet.

Humour is a powerful communication tool – when it works. It can break the ice in tense meetings, put new people at ease when you meet or brighten up a boring presentation.

When it doesn’t work, you can end up feeling like a right prat.

A lot of communication is like that. What you’re thinking in your head is not necessarily what comes out of your mouth (or keyboard) and certainly not what ends up in the minds of your listeners (or readers).

So the next time you share a gem of a yarn with those around you, take a moment… and follow the same steps you do with your ‘serious’ communications:

  1. Think of your audience.
  2. Ask yourself what message you’re trying to get across.
  3. Decide on your desired outcome.
  4. Shape your message with these things in mind.

Make sure your audience get the FULL story and can enjoy your humour as much as you do.

Next step – Saturday Night Live!

Pets can teach us a lot about communicating

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

When I was a teenager, we had a Beagle called Amy. If you’ve ever lived with a Beagle, you’ll know that they are highly intelligent (well devious), enthusiastic, food obsessed dogs. And Amy was typical of her breed.

You always knew when Amy wanted to go in (or out) as she’d scratch the door. Overdue for a walk? Amy would find her leash and trot up and down the hallway until you took her out. Hungry? At dinner times Amy would perform the ‘dinner dance’ – she’d dance around the kitchen with her tongue out, until we fed her.

You could say she was a clear communicator.

Today I live under the paw of a fluffy tabby cat called Monty. Monty is also assertive in communicating his needs. I’m never in doubt about where he wants to be (on the other side of any closed door), what he wants (jelly meat, five or six times a day – NOW) and whether he wants to be stroked (he has very sharp claws and a tendency to bite).

We could learn a lot from our pets. Without a single word (although Monty has a range of meows) they tell us their wants, needs and opinions. Next time you write a comms piece, or even an email, remember Amy or Monty (or your own pet) and ask yourself – am I communicating as clearly as they do?

 

Want to communicate? Let’s talk strategy

roadWant your communications to be targeted, tailored and results focused? You need a strategy.

Communicating without a strategy is like going on a road trip with no map. You’ll end up somewhere, but you won’t have chosen the destination.

You can use a content strategy to shape a world of sins – anything from a one-off sales campaign to a complete communications re-brand.

Over the years, I’ve planned and driven my share of communication strategies for product launches, company-wide re-brands and overhauls of the corporate tone of voice.

The first thing I do to plan out my strategy (straight after making a strong cup of tea) is to consult Google to see what new thinking has come out.

Results have been varied. Sometimes I find good ideas, but a lot of the strategies I found were internally-focused and lacked useful detail.

So I decided to share my strategy with you (and Google). Come along for the ride – you never know what we both might learn.

location-pinPick your destination

Just like a great road trip, the success of a communications strategy is in the planning. You need to know where you want to go, what you want to do when you get there and what ‘must haves’ will make the trip a success.

My communications strategy has seven destinations:

  1. Objectives
  2. Audiences
  3. Messages
  4. Channels
  5. Measures
  6. Resources
  7. Sanity check

I hope you enjoy the journey.

map-with-location-pinSet your objectives

Most road trips I’ve been on were planned with a combination of beer, argument and late-night creativity. After a lot of discussion and laughter, the designated driver mapped out an itinerary – usually after everyone else had fallen asleep.

Planning your communications strategy is a similar process, usually minus the beer and, hopefully, the sleep. The first step is to decide where you want to go – set your objective.

You and your stakeholders – usually Product, Marketing and your Digital team – need to figure out:

  1. What you want to achieve.
  2. What benefits you want to get out of your communications.
  3. How you know you’ve ‘arrived’.

Typical objectives are:

  • More sales through your online channels.
  • A change or uplift in how your audiences perceive your brand.
  • Move calls out of the contact centre and into your online self-service portal.
  • Or the ever-popular improve NPS.

Usually, you’re either trying to increase revenue or decrease cost.

Heads up: to sell your strategy to the higher ups, make sure your objectives align with the overall business strategy.

To make your objectives easy to measure and share with your peers – keep them short, simple and tangible.

bookCase study – servicing energy customers

Imagine you work for an energy retailer. You sell electricity and natural gas to business and domestic customers. Your call centre gets over 40,000 calls a week from customers wanting to pay bills, set up a direct debit or find out how much power they’ve used.

Those calls cost $25 a pop. Money you could save by getting customers to use your self-service portal instead. So your objective is to:

  • Move 10% of bill and usage contact centre calls to the self-service portal.

Given each call costs around $25 and a self-service transaction costs $7. If you achieve your goal, you could save your company $72,000 per week.

I’m fairly sure savings like that will get your higher ups to pay attention.

Great – we have an objective. We need to figure out who to ‘convince’ to achieve it.

audienceChoose your audience(s)

There is little point in saying anything until you know who you’re talking to. Imagine the different conversations you’d have talking to your manager vs talking to your 12 year old daughter.

So, we need to decide who to talk to – our audience. Our audience is the group (or groups) of people a) whose behaviour we want to change and b) we think we can influence.

They can be:

  • Prospects – new, unknown customers.
  • Existing customers – people we have a relationship with – who we can approach directly.
  • Influencers – partners or social commentators who have the ‘ears’ of audiences we can’t reach.

Finding the right audience is a critical part of your strategy and one that is easy to get wrong. It’s tempting to pick easy-to-access audiences:

  • Existing customers – you already have their contact details and know a lot about them.
  • Market segments – an age group, geography or demographic you think will respond.
  • Identified prospects – they’ve shared their contact details with you and have shown an interest in your products or services.
  • Or just EVERYONE – that one’s easy, just broadcast your message.

But these easy audiences can have drawbacks:

  • Existing customers – they might be tired of hearing ‘buy me’ messages from your company.
  • Market segments – you have no history with these people, why would they listen to you?
  • Identified prospects – they may not be warm prospects, their interest in your company may have nothing to do with the product or service you are communicating about.
  • EVERYONE – a scatter-gun approach can be costly and usually has a very low success rate. The bulk of your communications will fall on deaf ears.

So how do you decide who to target?

Think about your objective. Is there an identifiable group of people whose behaviour needs to change to achieve it, e.g. buy more product, transact online or give you company a better NPS rating? Of that group of people, who is likely to change their behaviour to match your objective?

That is your audience.

book

Case study – servicing energy customers

In our case study, the audience is fairly easy to identify. You want to target customers calling the call centre to pay a bill, set up a direct debit or query their electricity usage. And you need to get to them before they call.

Not everyone is comfortable transacting online, particularly when they are paying power bills of $500 or more. So you want to focus on customers who are more comfortable online.

If you target customers who have used your website before, you have a better chance of being heard.

Your audience is those customers whose bills are coming due, who have either logged into your website or app, sent an online enquiry or have used the online chat tool in the last 6 months.

edit-openWrite your messages

Now we know who we’re talking to, let’s decide what we want to say.

Your message needs to do two things:

  1. Capture your audience’s interest.
  2. Convince them to do something to achieve your objective.

To write your messages, think about your audience and what you want them to do.

First, your audience

Think about the kinds of people your audience is made up of:

  • Imagine the language they are most comfortable with – formal, casual, verbose, pithy…
  • Think about what they are likely to respond to – short text, long text, image, video, survey…
  • What actions are they likely to take – click links, call, use your website or app or walk into a bricks and mortar shop?

Think about the relationship your audience has with your company:

  • Prospect?
  • Repeat customer?
  • Disgruntled customer you want to win back?

This helps you understand what they want to hear from you and what they are likely to listen to.

What you want them to do

Now think about your objective – what you want them to do – and how you can convince them to do it. Write with their wants and needs in mind and the actions you want them to perform. You should end up with a range of messages.

You can A/B test messages to discover which ones are more successful. With a range of messages, you can target different channels and prompt different actions to meet your objective.

Don’t be afraid to use humour and more ‘human’ language to make your messages stand out. They need to relate to your message, whether you’re writing a 300 word email or a 250 character text.

book

Case study – servicing energy customers

Back at our energy company, you want to encourage customers who’d normally call the contact centre to log in and use your self-service portal.

You’re writing to existing customers, so you know a lot about them. Tailor your language and calls-to-action to your audience segments – shorter, mobile first actions to customers who’ve used your app or portal vs longer, instructional text to ones who called or filled out an enquiry form.

You can use the data you have on past behaviour to tailor your messages to:

  • Customers who pay on time – “no fuss, no hold music”.
  • Customers who regularly query their bill – “check your bill any time”.
  • Customers who are often late to pay their bills – “set up direct debit and never miss a payment”.
  • Customers who have logged into the portal before – “come back and see us”.
  • Customers who do not have a login – “quick and simple sign-up, pay your bill in minutes”.

Great, we have our messages. Now we need to send them to our audiences.

sms-speach-bubbleChoose your channels

We communicators have a lot of channels to choose from. From ‘tell anyone’ broadcast options, to personalised, one-on-one communications, we have a spectrum to choose from.

If your strategy requires large audience, broadcast communications, you can use:

  • TV or radio advertisements.
  • Billboards, decals or other outdoor collateral.
  • Web pages.
  • Social media.
  • Press releases.

For more tailored messages, you have:

  • Links to personalised web pages
  • In-app alerts
  • SMS
  • Email
  • Snail mail
  • We can even call them

We choose the channel to fit our objective, audience and our message.

Often the best strategy is to use a combination of channels, tailored to your audiences, for your approach, then offer a range of calls-to-action and let them decide how to progress:

  • Open personalised web page
  • Visit campaign page
  • Enter a code to unlock discounts.
  • Download an app.
  • Call a campaign specific phone number.

book

Case study – servicing energy customers

You know your target customers have used an online channel – your self-service portal, app, online enquiry form or the chat tool. So they are comfortable with some form of online transaction. As they are existing customers you have access to their contact details.

There are a few channels you can use for this campaign:

  • An SMS with a link to the mobile version of the self-service portal.
  • Emails with info-graphics showing how easy the portal is to use – then link to the sign up page.
  • Include details of the self-service portal in your IVR script and contact centre ‘hold music’.
  • Create a web page with details of how easy it is to use your self-service portal.
  • Publish ‘how to’ videos to show how quick and simple your online tasks are.

Note: Before you send out your messages, make sure your customers haven’t opted out of marketing messages. You don’t want to break any anti-span laws.

OK, we know our messages and how we’re going to get them to our audience. How will we know our strategy has worked?

measureMeasure your success

When we set our objectives, we put some numbers around success. Let’s look a bit closer at the types of measures you can use for your strategy.

Depending on your objective, your measures could be:

  • Number or percentage of increased sales.
  • Percentage change in brand recognition or positive brand perception.
  • Number or percentage of calls moved from the contact centre to online channels
  • NPS increase.

We can use these measures while we run our strategy to track customer behaviour and adjust our messaging and channels in response. This helps us focus on the messages/channels that work, and not on the ones that don’t.

At the completion of our strategy delivery, we can use these measures to quantify success.

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Case study – servicing energy customers

Your objective our energy company was to move 10% of bill and usage contact centre calls to your self-service portal.

Your measures for this are relatively straight forward – fewer calls to the call centre and more logins and task completions through your online channel.

So how do you measure this accurately?

  1. Work with the team who manage your call centre technology to track the number of calls to do with paying bills and enquiring about energy usage.Remember to also ask for the number of calls for the same length of time over a similar period before your campaign.
  2. Ask your analytics team for reports on pay-bill and check-usage tasks completed through your online channels – for the same two time periods as your contact centre reports.

Those are your measures. You’re looking for a drop in your call centre calls – by 10% ideally – and a rise in your online channel tasks.

resourceResource your strategy

Now we know what we want to say, who we want to say it to and how we want to say it. The big question is how are we going to pay for it?

We have to resource our strategy. We may need funding.

Day to day communications are usually funded out of BAU budgets. Larger, more complex strategies may need extra copy writers, developers or funding for social media, Google ads, SMSs or mail outs.

If these expenses are outside your normal operating budget you need $$ from the higher ups.

Higher ups are usually interested in two things – revenue and cost. If you can increase one or decrease the other – you have their attention.

You need to demonstrate the return on investment of your strategy.

Look at the likely cost of your proposed communications and the forecast savings or revenue increase of achieving your objectives. If you can show that the former is less than the latter, you have a business case for your strategy.

book

Case study – servicing energy customers

Cost

Your communications plan included:

  • SMS customers – where you have mobile numbers and they’ve used their phones to log into your portal or use your app.
  • Email customers – where you don’t have mobile numbers, do have email addresses, and they’ve logged into your portal or sent an online enquiry.
  • Update your IVR and on-hold scripts.
  • Publish a new web page.

So your cost will look like this:

Costs table

And your savings like this:

Savings table

So your business case is:

A $32,000 investment is likely to result in a saving of $72,000 a week. An ROI of less than a week is not too shady.

owlSanity check

Right, we’re on the home straight! We know what we want to achieve, who we want to approach, what we want to say and how we’re going to fund and measure our activities. There’s only one thing left to do – apart from press Send.

Let’s sanity check our strategy before we set it loose. If you have time, a trial run with some colleagues – preferably ones who aren’t involved in the communications world – can teach you a lot.

Or try it out with friends and family – any controlled group of ‘friendlies’ will do. Simply send them your communications, using the channels you’ve chosen and, after, ask them a few questions:

  • What was the message? (What do they remember?)
  • What stood out to them? (Any highlights?)
  • How do they feel about the message? (Did you make them care?)
  • What would they do, if anything, having read the message? (Did you win them over?)

This feedback will help you test and fine tune your messages and your channels and manage your expectations about the likely outcome of your strategy.

Now you’re ready to take on your public! Or at least try a few initiatives out and see what happens. Good luck and May the force of customer sentiment be with you.

Competing for the customer’s ear

One of the biggest challenges in our cluttered communication world is competing for customers – their attention and a share of their wallet.

Customers, or people as we plain-speakers like to call them, get bombarded by marketing and sales messages every time they watch TV, listen to the radio or pick up a device – Facebook, Insta, You Tube – even the games on their phones come with advertising.

So how do you cut through? Make sure your messages say what your customers want to hear. 

Get to know your customers

How? Ask them. Talk to them, survey them, send them an email or an SMS asking for feedback. 

Can’t ask them? You might have to revert the tried and tested Aussie approach of “suck it and see”.

I think my UX colleagues call it A/B testing.

Your customers will quickly show you what they like and what they don’t – usually with their mouse or finger – they’ll click on, tap or engage with the offers that speaks to them. They will ignore the ones that don’t.

Let me give you a real life example.

Meet Monty

Monty lives in my laundry (and on the couch) and makes my life very difficult when he doesn’t get what he wants, when he wants it. Sadly, he can’t just tell me what he does and doesn’t like. I have to go on what he will and won’t eat.

Simply put, if the bowl is empty my message got across, if not I have to change my offering.

Very much like designing offers and communications to customers – although some of them will tell you their likes and dislikes through chat and comments, most of them will just act / or not.

Competing for Monty’s loyalty

For most of 2019 Monty has been a cat biscuit kind of guy. Happy to chew his way through a bowl or more a day.

Midway through the year, I decided to try him out on cat milk – to see if I could get him sold on that value add and up his engagement with my brand.

The milk was a hit! For 6 months, he’d shout the house down twice a day until he got his fix.

A happy and loyal customer.

But, I dropped the ball. I went away for a few weeks and didn’t leave a supply of cat biscuits.

In stepped my competition (the husband). He had a product he wanted to get off the shelf quickly (sachets of wet cat food left over from before we got Monty). So, he went for the quick sell. No biscuits on offer, so no competition.

Two weeks later I get home to a cat that flatly refuses to consider biscuits. My product offering is over-shadowed by wet cat food. I can spruik my biscuit offering as much as I like – sprinkle gravy over the biscuits, mix them with tuna – but to no avail. My competition took advantage of my radio silence and sold my customer onto his product.

Serves the husband right really, because now he has to buy six cans of cat food a week, rather than one box of biscuits.

Customers aren’t cats, are they

OK so not all of our customers are cats, and I hope not many of them eat cat food. 

But, the same thing can happen to our customers if we don’t listen to them, anticipate their changing needs and communicate offers to meet those needs, in language and through a channel that appeals to them.

Monty never SAID he wanted cat milk, but I know a bit about cat likes and dislikes (life-long cat slave) so thought I’d give it a go. 

I thought Monty was happy with his cat bikkies, so it didn’t even occur to me to try something new. My lack of customer focus was the opening my husband needed to win Monty over to his product. 

Something similar happened to Kodak in the early days of digital cameras. Their customers had been happily creating Kodak moments for years. No need to change, the customer was happy. Until this new product comes along that is quicker and easier than film. No waiting for the chemist to print your photos – you can see them right away.

And you can carry them around in a small portable device, no need for big, heavy photo albums.

Just like Monty and the wet cat food, the customer is gone, never to return.

So what can you do?

Get to know your customers. Read their comments on your website and app, listen to them in the call centre, try to get out of the office and meet them. Find out what they like and don’t like about your offering (product, service, content – whatever you offer). 

Try new things – based on what you learned about their likes and dislikes. Track the success of each new thing you try. If it doesn’t work, stop offering it – no harm, no foul.

If it works, you’ve just created a successful new offering – or in the case of my disloyal cat won a new convert to wet cat food.

Obviously, you need to be sensible and not create expensive new product lines, based on a hunch. Start small (and inexpensive) and the next thing you know the cat bikkies will be pushed to the back of the shelf and your customer will be buying cans and cans of lamb flavoured cat mince!

Co-authoring documents – harder than herding cats?

Today I’m working with a large team of people to write a response to an RFP (request for proposal for those playing at home). My role on the response is the ‘English Teacher’. I get to rewrite all the response contributions into a coherent, reader-friendly narrative.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

We have around 20 contributors in three countries, each adding their content to the central document. We’re in four time zones and between us all, I think we speak five languages.

We’re trying to write a sales-focused, response document, targeted to an Australian English speaking audience.

What could possibly go wrong?

Harder than herding cats

During a particularly animated team catch-up, our bid lead turned to me and said, “This is harder than herding cats”. Which got me thinking.

How hard is it really to herd cats and would it be harder than co-authoring a proposal document with 20 other people?

I happen to have a cat. So, I decided to compare my cat to the consultants I’m working with to figure out what would be harder – getting this document written or herding cats.

Cats vs consultants

This is my cat. His name is Monty.

Cat asleep on a couch

Monty

  • Monty is lazy and spends his days lying on the couch.
  • If you annoy him, Monty bites you.
  • Monty will do anything for cat milk.
  • I can’t get Monty out of my bedroom when I want to (my husband uses a water pistol, but I’m too soft).
  • Monty likes to tease our neighbour’s cat by sitting outside the living room window to show he’s allowed to go outside (the neighbours have an ‘inside’ cat). This is as close as he’s ever come to being part of a herd.
  • To get Monty to go where I want him to go, i.e. herd him, I offer him food. If it’s the right food, he is there almost before I am.

Consultants

  • The consultants spend their days sitting at computers, coding.
  • If you annoy the consultants, they argue with you (and each other) until the Webex meeting time runs out.
  • I’m not sure what motivates the consultants – possibly beer.
  • I can’t get the consultants to accept my document edits, so far, they’ve over-written my work 17 times.
  • The consultants seem to exist in herds, rather argumentative ones but definitely herds.
  • We haven’t actually figured out how to herd the consultants, i.e. agree on how we’re writing this document and what needs to go in it.
  • Herding consultants

You know what? I agree with my bid lead. Co-authoring a document with 20 people, in four time zones and from three very different cultures, is much harder than herding cats. Cats are single-minded. Dangle food in front of them and they are yours to ‘herd’ wherever you like.

Humans are opinionated and easily distracted. Writing RFP bids is neither a simple nor an easy task. Trying to distil complex, in-depth technical solutions into a structured, easy to follow narrative is no mean feat.

Combine that with different levels of English literacy and different cultural styles of communicating….

… give me cats any day!

Co-authoring the hard way

Yes, we are doing this the hard way. We started with a template, loosely assigned responsibility for each section and set the consultants loose.

Little co-ordination, different teams working on their sections in isolation – not the ideal scenario for cohesive document writing.

There is an easier way but it requires a bit of herding – consultants not cats.

We’ve sorted the technology side of things. Our documents are in the cloud, so we can all work on the same version.

The human side is where we need to lift our game.

Geographically challenged

Co-authoring a document across different locations has a number of challenges:

  1. Distance – your authors are physically isolated from each other. You can’t just walk down the corridor or gather in a meeting room to talk through issues.
  2. Time – your authors could be in different time zones. You can’t even get them on the phone or web chat to ask them a question – they are ASLEEP.
  3. Language – are all your authors native English speakers? No? This presents a double challenge.One – their content may not be 100% readable.

    Two – they might not be that easy to understand! To be fair, they might find our Aussie accents a bit of a challenge too.

  4. Culture – when you work with authors from other countries and cultures, they don’t work the same way you do. Simple things like answering ‘yes’ to a question can have different meanings from culture to culture.

Communicating with the herd

Overcoming these challenges takes planning and clear communication. Before you send everyone to their keyboards, you need to have a clear plan of who’s writing what and where they overlap.

You need to make sure everyone knows:

  1. What they are responsible to produce.
  2. Who is working on ‘adjacent’ topics – so they can collaborate and align their content.
  3. Timelines and deadlines.

And you need to keep making sure they know. We humans have rather dodgy short-term memories and we’re good at forgetting or reinterpreting what we thought we heard. So reminding your authors exactly who’s doing what will help keep things on track.

Talk often and talk openly

Where content is likely to overlap, make sure the authors talk to each other frequently. Otherwise, they can easily end up writing content that is inconsistent or even contradictory.

Getting the whole team to talk to each other frequently is the best way to identify and alleviate any issues. Try to meet daily at time that suits all locations, so you all have time to talk through your sections and compare / align the message.

Read each other’s work

A simple way to make sure your authors don’t contradict each other is to get them to read each other’s work and talk over any differences. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? You’d be amazed how many teams don’t read each other’s work.

The value of a good cat-herder

OK, your authors are done and the document has content in every section. Job done, or is it? It’s likely that each of those sections is in a different style and with a different voice.

Most of my co-authors aren’t native English speakers; the document I’m working on is already quite grammatically challenged.

That’s where you need a good cat-herder to round up all the bad grammar, spelling errors, odd punctuation and eccentric word choices and herd them into a cohesive, coherent whole. In other words, rewrite the document in plain, consistent English.

Don’t underestimated the power of clear English. One consistent voice is a lot easy to understand that 20 different ones. More likely to sell your message too.

We’re working on our document for another two weeks and this is the first time the team’s had an ‘English Teacher’ on the bid.

Wish me luck.