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Where’s My Stuff? The Power of Speaking in Your Customers’ Words

A company’s biggest differentiator is often their ability to predict the needs of customers. This concept is typically associated with the purchasing experience, or developing personalized services.

What’s missing from these strategies are the opportunities in communicating to customers how things go wrong.

More specifically – how to get out of the customer’s way when they need help.Sounds counter-intuitive, I know. Stick with me here.

When your customer has a garden variety question, they want an answer. It’s already a hassle that they have to ask. Your job in cultivating brand loyalty is to make it easy for them to get that answer.

One of the most informative projects I ever worked on was all about reducing customer contacts. In my team, customer contacts were viewed as a defect. We’d gone wrong somewhere in the system and caused confusion, frustration, or unintended consequences.

This is where I learned the importance of truly understanding language.

Beyond a ‘voice of the customer’ perspective, companies must internalize the words used by their customers as well. It’s not enough to surface an accurate response. You need to understand how they would ask that question in the first place.

Providing guidance using a company’s language is asking customers to adapt to your business norms. Brand loyalty comes from meeting your consumer base where they are, not where you live.

After analyzing details from hundreds of customer contacts, it became evident that we were the problem. Content was written and presented in ways that made perfect sense to us, but completely useless to anyone else. Pages and pages of carefully crafted information that no one would ever read.

I spent two weeks translating our content to the actual words being used by our actual customers. A relatively low effort of revamping our landing page, and the new experience was live.

Overly complicated topics like “disbursement and rolling cycles” and “chargebacks” became “where’s my money?” Delivery help went from “delayed shipments and fulfillment” and became “where’s my stuff?” Simple. Effective. Clear.

Customers didn’t have to guess what we meant by whatever noun/verb combination we had strung together.

The results were astounding – contacts dropped almost immediately in those areas. Of course, this often surfaced new questions; that’s the point of learning. This approach also allowed teams to pinpoint problem areas and make things more clear within the customer task flow.

We stopped asking customers to think like us in order to be heard. And then we fixed what was bothering them. Revolutionary, I know. Take all the time you to need to process the complexity of it.

Internalize the words of your customer and meet them there. This approach is surprisingly effective and applies to more than just customer help centers.

I’m from Seattle and frequent local coffee shops. One store in particular always made a habit of “correcting” me on the sequence in which I ordered a drink (size, milk type, beverage type – not size, beverage type, milk type).

Think about that for a minute. As a consumer, I’m describing what I want – the company is then asking me to reorder that to match their understanding.

A predictive, consumer-centric approach would be to realize that people order coffee differently; then build an internal process to translate into something that aligns. The key is to take a step back and look for places where you ask consumers to adapt. Viewing a process or product through their lens also creates space for more creative solutions.

Here are some places to get started:

1. Learn your customer profiles and the words they use to express pain points.

1.5 No, you don’t already know. Really. Also, both will change over time and as your product or consumer base evolves. See item 1.

2. Customers don’t want to read, they want you to tell them. If people have to scroll through content to find information, you’ve lost their confidence.

3. Optimize your help to display effectively on all device types. People access help and support content from phones, tablets, etc. Most consumers don’t consider laptops as a mobile device because why on earth would anyone wait that long to find an answer?

4. Answer the question being asked. Customers want to get their info and move on with life. While it seems more effective to bundle questions that you believe to be similar, it’s super annoying to your customers. Stop it.

5. Think of it as 140 characters to solve a problem. Again, these are not varsity level customer care questions. Most contacts are solvable in 1-2 sentences. The others are going to need human intervention at some point anyway. Let them tell you when they want more details.

6. Learn from recurring questions and patterns of behavior. These are often the best early indicators that a policy change or new functionality is causing confusion. Be open to problems and remember that someone is rolling their eyes at the feature you worked so hard to create. It’s going to happen, might as well grow from the experience.

7. Listen to your customer support associates. They are the internal experts on your products and services. Support people hear everything, and on a scale that matters. Check in with them regularly.

8. Listen to the voice, and words, of your customers. If it’s possible, have product and development listen to customer calls. Once you hear pain points from real-life users, the problems become more relatable and clear.

9. Get to the point. When customers need an answer, they are not the least bit interested in all awesome aspects of your company. I can’t tell you how many pages I’ve seen that suggest upgrading to new products, or even asking for recommendations. Now is not the time. Get out of their way and surface the answer.

10. Don’t ask if the answer was helpful. That’s like asking if a joke was funny. I realize that effectiveness can be a difficult aspect to measure, but the data received from this question will always be inherently flawed. Don’t waste your time or theirs.

Originally published on LinkedIn ,January 13, 2018

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