What a great start, isn’t it? Now you know what tone and voice represent, how and why they’re significant in customer service and how to set the appropriate tone when communicating with your customers.
After gaining a proper basic understanding of tone and voice notions, we can dive deeper into some detailed principles that will help you strike the right tone no matter whether you write to your customers or speak with them. Ready?
Sure, but let’s warm up with a few general rules first so that you don’t forget or overlook them.
For start, let’s point out a few critical customer service mistakes that are guaranteed to ruin customer relationships no matter what industry you’re in and what type of customers you serve.
In this video, IT author and speaker Don R. Crawley covers five common mistakes while also offering ways to avoid them and improve customer service.
The same expert further advises CSRs to treat all customers as people first. He says that customers deserve our compassion, empathy, listening, dignity, and respect. Watch his next video and learn.
So, remember to treat customers with empathy by imagining what they’re feeling and remembering what you would want if you were in a similar situation. Customers want to know that you care.
Therefore, watch another video and learn how to improve your empathy.
You still wonder how to strike the right tone? Stick to these basic principles and the following in-depth guidelines to help you hit it. Here comes the first one.
Find the Right Balance Between Casual and Professional
In most email messages, letters, and memos, a style between the two extremes generally is appropriate. Writing that is too formal can alienate readers, and an overly obvious attempt to be casual and informal may strike the reader as insincere or unprofessional.
So far you’ve realized that your voice tone communicates more to your customers than your words say. Now, check out this fantastic video in which PhonePRO explains which voice tone is the best: positive, negative, neutral, formal, or informal.
You see? Surprised?
Here’s another credible source, Open Access BPO, giving the same piece of advice in their article about using the right tone of voice to enhance customer service.
A lot of call centers would say they usually adopt a neutral tone. However, although it’s the safest choice, it’s often NOT the best one. The downside is that you may sound uncaring and distant, and NO customer likes that.
Generally, it’s better to be casual and friendly whether on the phone, email, or social media.
As a simple solution to the dilemma of using formal or casual language when talking to customers, here’s how Chatwee suggests to you to avoid sounding like a jerk in customer service.
In order to be able to decide which way to go, you need to know who’s on the other end of the communication channel. A sensible thing to do is to reflect the conversation partner’s tone of voice.
This is not the first time you hear this advice, is it?
They further mention the same interesting survey from the customer service industry analysis company Software Advice, which has shown that 65% of customers using email prefer support agents to use casual tone, regardless of their age or gender. This comes with an asterisk though – in case of being denied a request, customers prefer formal tone.
In their article The Right Tone of Voice For Every Customer Service Scenario, another credible source mentions the same survey, according to which 78% of respondents said that an overly casual tone (like using slang or emoticons) has a negative impact on their experience when the agent is denying a request.
By being too casual when you have to say no to a customer, you imply that you’re not taking their request seriously. It’s something that bugs your customers.
Another question that the Software Advice survey explored was how customers reacted to emoticons in support emails.
The result? For most people, emoticons are just fine. Only 35% of customers found emoticons too casual. As usual, the best policy is to always be aware of the situation. When you have to deliver bad news, stay away from the smileys.
While most customers want to keep their email conversation light and casual, it’s not appropriate for all situations. Your tone will impact your customer’s satisfaction, so it’s important to match your tone to the news that you’re about to deliver.
Though most business correspondence is fairly formal, don’t make the mistake of being too formal. There’s no reason to say “In the event that” when “If” will do. You want your writing to sound natural, not stuffy or stilted.
Your tone should be courteous and professional at all times, and it should convey strength and confidence. When you use a confident and courteous tone, readers are more likely to agree and accept the message you are conveying.
However, you must not be curt, overconfident, or arrogant, as this will likely alienate your reader. If you are too tentative, readers might not take you seriously, but if you are too demanding, they might resent your request and be less inclined to comply. Thus, it is important to find the proper balance.
You did not assemble the parts correctly, and so the product is malfunctioning.
The product may not work correctly if any errors occur during assembly.
Source: Check out the article How to use tone in your writing for more guidelines and examples.
Another valuable article about the best tone of voice to take with customers by VerticalResponse suggests using friendly, personable language in neutral situations. Taking a casual tone may help customers see your business as more personable, which can improve the relationship you have with your audience
Customers want to know that your business cares about them and there’s a person listening to them on the other end. The study shows that you should always consider their feelings and create support emails that offer a casual yet professional tone.
Always strive to understand your customers’ likely emotional state. Adapt your word choice and tone accordingly. For instance, be especially judicious about using an informal tone in potentially sensitive situations, such as denying a refund.
Again, it’s about finding a balance between casual and professional. We‘d add that it goes for any other means of communication, not only emails.
It’s a bit tricky, though. How do you know when you’re being too casual, or when you’re being too stodgy?
Luckily, marketing expert and consultant Noah Fleming has some easy tips for finding your company’s voice and letting it shine through in your content. Check them out in this article about getting your company’s voice right. You’ll find out what voice you speak to customers with and how you know if your company’s voice is striking the right tone.
All words can be placed on a scale from informal to formal. Choosing the right word means knowing if your audience expects formality, informality or something in between in order to set the right tone.
You wonder how you can know that? Simply by carefully listening to your customers and paying attention to details. Let’s see why knowing exactly which words to use is so critical and how to figure it out.
Listen to Your Customers and Match Your Tone of Voice to the Context
Context is very important when it comes to using the right tone of voice. Not every circumstance will allow for being casual, just as not every person will be fine with it, especially in business environment.
Again, it’s good to be able to reflect the customer’s way of speaking or writing. Whether they’re using emojis, slang, or sound like English might not be their first language, you have to be able to adjust to that.
An extra care should be delivered to frustrated clients by being empathetic and reassuring. It’s like personalized communication in a lot of ways.
Source: Tone of Voice in Customer Service: How to Avoid Sounding Like a Jerk
OK, you know that the right tone depends a lot on the situation. It also depends on the specific customer. Still, you’re not confident you’ll always be able to hit it.
But there’s good news: simply by practicing, you can develop the ability to pick up on each customer’s tone and mood, and adjust your tone to match it appropriately.
For instance, there are a few easy cues you can practice spotting in any email:
- Does the customer use emoticons, exclamation points and slang? (This is a green light for you to reciprocate.)
- Does the customer sound like they might not be totally fluent in your language? (In this case, you need to be much more careful with nuances like slang.)
- Does the customer sound frustrated? (Turn up the empathy and use tone that’s understanding, apologetic and reassuring.)
Take a peek at it and the full article The Right Tone of Voice for Every Customer Service Scenario and notice how they tailor their tone to each customer.
Now, you see what it means to make your tone context-specific?
When the customer is frustrated, they focus on empathy and apology. When the customer is happy, but not using a super-casual tone, they do the same. And when the customer makes it obvious that casual and edgy are both okay, they reciprocate.
Learning to pick up on your customers’ subtle cues makes delivering service in the right tone of voice much, much easier.
Good. What else can help you set the appropriate tone? Here are more tips.
Write Positively and Conversationally
We all want our customer service interactions to sound positive, right? Sure.
But when we’re talking about actual customer service skills, positivity doesn’t necessarily refer to your general outlook on life, but to the language that you use.
To understand how powerful positive language is, let’s take a look at some negative language.
Think of the things nobody likes hearing, especially in customer support, and what kind of reactions these might actually cause in people:
- “I don’t know…”
- “We can’t…”
- “You can’t…”
- “Please calm down.”
…and a few other phrases you should never use in customer service. (Make sure you thoroughly read the whole article.)
Done? You see?
There are things that, in customer service, you should simply NEVER say. Phrases that can only make an interaction worse.
We all hate it when people are rude to us, but what we rarely think about is that sometimes, the way that we say things might come off as rude, even if we don’t mean it that way.
That’s why using the right language as well as tone in customer service is so important according to this source: The Customer Service Skills You Need to Succeed (And How to Develop Them).
They further answer the question how to choose the right language and point out that the easiest way to detect negative language in your support communication is to look for words like “can’t,” “don’t,” etc, and see if there’s a way to replace them.
- “I don’t know.” – “I’ll talk to the corresponding team member and get back to you ASAP.”
- “Please calm down.” – “I’m sorry. I understand. I’d be frustrated, too.”
- “No, you can’t do that.” – “Although that option isn’t available right now, there’s a similar option.”
What’s more, in the book Words Can Change Your Brain, researchers Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman write that hearing positive words can actually change our brain.
They found that people who used and heard positive language regularly developed changes in their brain that made them feel more positive all of the time.
You can use the power of positive words in customer service to make your customers have more positive experiences, both in the moment and over the long-term course of your relationship with them.
Check out the examples in the full Groove’s article about the right tone of voice for every customer service scenario and notice how the tone is totally different in pairs of extremely similar sentences.
Don’t you agree it’s simple yet so powerful? Just by removing a few negative words from our customer interactions, we can completely change the way what we say is perceived. In addition to avoiding those negative words, adopt a positive can-do attitude.
Sounds like fluffy nonsense, but your ability to make minor changes in your conversational patterns can truly go a long way in creating happy customers.
Language is a very important part of persuasion, and people (especially customers) create perceptions about you and your company based off of the language that you use.
Here’s an example. Let’s say a customer contacts you with an interest in a particular product, but that product happens to be backordered until next month. Small changes that utilize “positive language” can greatly affect how the customer hears your response.
- Without positive language: “I can’t get you that product until next month; it is back-ordered and unavailable at this time.”
- With positive language: “That product will be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse.”
The first example isn’t negative by any means, but the tone that it conveys feels abrupt and impersonal, and can be taken the wrong way by customers.
Conversely, the second example is stating the same thing (the item is unavailable), but instead focuses on when/how the customer will get to their resolution rather than focusing on the negative.
You see how it works?
To learn how to achieve all this, you may also want to check these 5 Tips for Positive and Powerful Customer Service Language.
Furthermore, watch this video in which Noah Fleming advises you how to improve your writing to your customers.
Yes, that’s the key – write like you talk and inject personality into all your communications with the customers. It’s always a good idea to use polite conversational language, but without colloquialisms.
People pay extra attention to a message written in a conversational tone. In fact, according to a study by psychology researchers Richard E. Mayer and Roxana Moreno, when people read something that’s written conversationally, it tricks their brain into thinking they’re directly involved.
As a result, a conversational tone is more effective for getting a message across – and getting that message to stick.
On the other hand, having a conversational tone is important, as long as it doesn’t hinder efficiency. The reader needs to know quickly why you are writing.
So, if you write like you speak, you definitely won’t use passive voice unless necessary, right? That’s what our next tip is about.
Use Active Voice
Passive voice and active voice are two different ways in which a sentence can be structured. Using the wrong type of voice in your marketing or business-related writing can be devastating. The way a sentence is built has a large influence on the reader’s emotional reaction.
As suggested by MailChimp, use active voice. Avoid passive voice.
In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. In passive voice, the subject of the sentence has the action done to it.
Yes: Marti logged into the account.
No: The account was logged into by Marti.
Words like “was” and “by” may indicate that you’re writing in passive voice. Scan for these words and rework sentences where they appear.
One exception is when you want to specifically emphasize the action over the subject. In some cases, this is fine.
If you feel you need help determining whether your sentences are active when writing, try using Hemingway App. It’s brilliant for pointing out passive vs active voice. It highlights a passive voice in a different color. It’s also very good for people whose English skills are a bit sketchy.
Since most of your customers might not be native or proficient English speakers, the next tip is vital in customer service.
Use Plain English and Avoid Slang, Jargon and Acronyms
Again, as suggested by MailChimp’s content style guide, write short sentences and use familiar words avoiding vague expressions. Write in plain English. If you need to use a technical term, briefly define it so everyone can understand. Avoid jargon and slang.
Contractions can be useful and give your writing an informal, friendly tone. However, be careful and use them as you see fit.
If you need to use an abbreviation or acronym that people may not understand, explain what it means on first reference. Just as we did here with CSR, which stands for Customer Service Representative, as we highlighted at the very beginning of this lesson series.
So, spell it out the first time you mention it. Then use the short version for all other references. For instance:
First use: Network Operations Center
Second use: NOC
Also, emoji are a fun way to add humor and visual interest to your writing, but use them infrequently and deliberately when you’re certain the customer won’t mind them.
It would be a good idea to be careful with using capital letters, too. Writing in capitals usually equals SHOUTING at people, so be extra careful with it.
All these previous tips lead us to the point in the next one.
Keep Your Messages Clear and Concise
Check out these fantastic tips and examples of how to use precise words and appropriate tone in business communication.
All in all, change your tone and voice to match the situation. Look for some clues from your customer and adjust your tone and voice.
Readers (your customers), like writers (you – CSRs), are busy people, and they are unlikely to spend time trying to decipher the meaning of wordy, vague, or confusing text. Therefore, writers (you) should themselves spend the time to ensure that their writing is as clear as possible.
Similarly, always tend to keep your messages concise and to-the-point.
Just because a sentence or paragraph is long does not necessarily mean that it is wordy, nor does the fact that a sentence is short mean that it is necessarily concise. To write concisely means to eliminate words that aren’t necessary because they don’t add anything to the meaning of a sentence. Also, learn more about conciseness from Write Express.
Now you know what the appropriate tone in customer service is and how to strike it, right?
The guidelines in the previous subsections can serve you as a great starting point for finding the best tone with your customers. However, take all the theoretical rules with a grain of salt.
Remember – your customers are people first, and we’re all different. So, it’s always better to listen to each individual customer and adjust your tone accordingly, isn’t it?
It’s time to talk about different channels of communication now and to see how they influence hitting the right tone. However, that’s what we’re going to deal with in the following lesson after we summarize our main learnings from this one. So, let’s put it all in a nutshell.
While doing your best to strike the appropriate tone, no matter whether communicating with your customers via email, live chat, phone, or any other channel, try to stick to the following main guidelines:
- Treat all customers as people first, with respect, compassion, and empathy. Show them that you care and want to help them by attentively listening to what they have to say.
- Always be aware of the situation. That will help you make your tone context-specific and reflect your customer’s tone of voice so that you’ll always know how to find the right balance between formal and casual.
- Tend to use positive words and to write like you speak, using active voice and plain language.
- Be extra careful with using emoticons, acronyms, capitals, and abbreviations.
- Always try to keep your messages clear and as concise as possible.
Also, remember that as a CSR you’ll always be speaking on behalf of your employer.
These detailed guidelines will help you set the right tone in every situation and provide outstanding service to your customers. Happy customers mean your happy employer, which also means your online CSR career is bound to succeed. We’re looking forward to your success! How about you?
Show the world you can do it! Go ahead! Answer a few quiz questions to consolidate your learning before we continue walking down the path of your success.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. As a CSR, your tone of voice should always be neutral.
a. Yes. It’s an easy way out which helps you avoid being either too formal or too informal, so it’s always smart to stick to it no matter what the situation you’re in.
b. You shouldn’t be preoccupied with the tone of your voice because it is totally unimportant in customer service. What matters most are the words you use while communicating with the customers.
c. No. You may sound uncaring and distant, and no customer likes that. It’s better to sound friendly and caring instead.
2. If you get an email from a customer in which you feel the customer “sounds” frustrated, how should you react i.e. what should your tone be like?
a. Just write back what you have to and add a couple of smiling faces at the end of your most important sentences. There isn’t such a frustration a few smileys cannot fix, right?
b. Adjust to the context. Turn up your empathy and use your best understanding, apologetic and reassuring tone. At the same time, stay away from emoticons and exclamation marks.
c. Always reciprocate! When you feel your customers are frustrated, reflect their way of writing or speaking and show them how frustrated you can be!!!
3. If a customer asks you for help and you cannot help them solve their problem because you either don’t know how or it’s not your duty, what’s the best way to respond?
a. “I believe there’s a way to solve your problem. Let me check that for you.”
b. “I’m sorry but I can’t help you. Please, try calling another department.”
c. “I don’t know. That’s not within my scope of duties.”
4. How can you set the appropriate tone when communicating with customers?
a. Listen to your customers and match your tone of voice to theirs and to the context.
b. Learn how to strike the perfect balance between being too casual and too formal.
c. Keep all your messages clear and concise.
d. Use plain English and avoid slang, jargon, acronyms, passive voice, capitals, as well as the overuse of emoticons and exclamation marks.
e. All of the above.