When form contradicts content

Six ways that your communication style might actually be undermining your message.

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it that communicates your message. If the means and the message aren’t in synch, your message simply won’t ring true.

‘Customers are our top priority’ – it’s a mantra seen on many a website, heard in presentations and espoused in proposals. It is no doubt sincerely meant, passionately believed and largely true.

But why is it that sometimes, no matter how passionately a commitment is stated, it lacks 100% credibility? It may be that as a business is stating that customers take top priority, they are communicating in a way that undermines that very message.

So, how might you be undermining your ‘customer first’ message in the way you communicate? Here are six traps to look out for:

1. Starting with me

A client recently asked me to review some of their unsuccessful proposals, to understand why they hadn’t been winning. One of the first things that jumped off the page was that every single paragraph in the exec summary and 50% of those in the response started with the respondent’s company name (or ‘we’/‘our’)! In fact, throughout the tender the respondent’s name was used a whopping 14 times more than the name of the company issuing the tender. In that situation, it doesn’t matter what you say about customer service, the received message is ‘it’s all about us’.

2. Mixing your languages

There are two languages in business – client language and internal language. Both perfectly valid – but using internal language when dealing with clients can make them feel like they’re not top priority. I recently visited a website and was interested enough to click to download their eBook – but guess how I felt when I saw that the document name was ‘Convert Kit’? Yup – I felt like just another number in their funnel – and certainly not like a valued potential client.

3. PFB

Or problem, feature, benefit. To continue the ‘two languages’ theme, features are your internal language, but customers speak in problems and solving them to get benefits. Are your sales documents more like spec sheets, listing features without articulating a problem or explaining how their solution helps? If someone insisted on speaking to you in their language and not yours, you wouldn’t feel that they were putting you first. Nor do customers who are bombarded with features.

4. Case studies (yes, really)

Surely a case study is a fabulous way to communicate just how customer focussed you are? You’re telling the customer’s story after all. True – IF you’re writing from the customer’s point of view, in their voice and showcasing their outcomes. But I’ve seen a lot of so called case studies which have no input from the customer, and which are not much more than a list of the products sold, rather than the result they helped the customer achieve. If you can’t put customers at the heart of a case study, your ‘customer first’ message looks pretty unconvincing.

5. Presenting…us

What is the first thing your customer audience needs to hear in a presentation? I can tell you what it’s not, and that’s your company structure, history or profile of the chairman. Yet I’ve lost count of the number of presentations I’ve seen that open that way. If you’re truly putting customers first, focus on what they’d like to hear, not what you want to tell them.

6. Not following instructions

Another example from the world of proposals – ignoring the client’s instructions. Tender responses are not just about content, but also the form of the response. The client usually specifies how they want to receive the information. For example, length of answers, whether they’ll accept hyperlinks or brochures, naming of files. You have to assume the instructions are designed to make evaluation easier for the client. I reviewed a proposal where 4 out of 10 questions had answers that exceeded the guidelines (by up to 70%!), which sends a message the writer didn’t take the client’s priorities seriously.

Your customers may not consciously spot these contradictions. But nonetheless, they undermine your credibility and lead to a client relationship that is a good few degrees cooler than it could be.

I encourage you to use the list next time your review your web content, respond to a tender, or create a presentation. Once your content and your form are completely in synch you’ll reap the benefits of a customer who believes you 100% when you say they are your number one priority.

Find out more about how Words2Win can help you avoid these pitfalls by helping you develop 100% customer focussed content.

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