The Bee Gees once sang “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away”.
The sentiment in the Bee Gees words offer a lesson to companies wanting to improve their customer experience.
The reason being is that the words that we choose to write to our customers are probably one of the most important elements that define the experience that our customers have with us.
However, many businesses tend to ignore them, the extent of them and how much of an impact that they can have. As a result, they tend to settle, through laziness, habit or otherwise, into using their own language or industry speak when communicating with their customers.
Nowhere is this more so than in industries that are technical in nature or that are subject to lots of compliance, regulation and legislation.
- Many of the Terms & Conditions (T&Cs) that customers routinely get sent or have to agree with.
- A lot of the cookie, privacy and data protection policies that companies implement.
- Many of the contracts that customers enter into with companies.
- The emails that some departments, especially complaints departments, send to customers.
Are they customer friendly? Are they easily understandable? If not, what impact do they have on the customer’s experience? And, what impact could changing them have?
Now, I’ve written about this before, as have many others, but still it is not an area that seems to get much attention.
But, all is not lost.
Recently, I came across one organisation that has thought deeply about the words that they use and have used words as the one of the cornerstones of their customer experience transformation.
The company in question is Great Western Railways (GWR) in the UK who I saw presenting at the recent Customer Engagement Transformation Conference in London, where I was speaking and also chairing a stream of the conference.
In the presentation Abu Siddeeq, Customer Experience Manager at GWR and Neil Martin from The First Word, told the story of how modernising how GWR communicates, particular when it comes to the written word, has helped them transform engagement with their customers.
At the start of their process, after doing a bit of research they realised that GWR had a rich history of writing about the places that they traveled to. But, somehow that tradition had gotten lost over time.
As a result, a key element of their transformation was to capture this tradition and put ‘pride, passion and personality’ back into the words they used with their customers and to start using “Real speak not rail speak”.
This was also very much aligned with pressure from the rail regulator in the UK (The Office of Rail and Road (ORR)), that is keen to see less use of industry jargon and clearer information in order to help build trust with passengers and help them make better decisions around their ticket choices.
GWR’s whole word transformation is driven by 3 guiding principles:
- We are real – We write in a straightforward way that’s easy to understand.
- We are personal – We put people first – not processes, policies and procedures.
- We are inspiring – We use words to move our readers, not just inform them.
Moreover, their initiative is supported by a writing training programme that has equipped staff to live up to their 3 guiding principles in their communications with customers.
But, through the implementation process, they quickly realised that they could not stop at rethinking how they communicated with customers and had to include their own supporting policies and procedures. As a result, they took on the rewriting upwards of 200 internal documents (policies and procedures) so that they were aligned with their goals and guiding principles.
Here’s some of the results of their transformation programme:
- Over the course of 6 quarters, they improved their NPS score by 29 points and reduced their customer effort score (CES) by 10 points.
- In addition, they also received a commendation from the regulator:
“We welcome the steps you have taken to fully redraft both your passenger and policy documents, making them simpler, easier to read and more user friendly.”
What’s clear from this is that words matter and those include both the words that we use to communicate with our customers and the words that we use to support us in doing that.
I only hope that GWR’s experience motivates more leaders and companies to investigate the impact that the words they use has on their customer experience.