Writing has become such an essential customer service skill that it’s fair to call the average advisor a professional writer. Words on a screen sometimes even form the entire service experience. It’s therefore not surprising that many companies monitor their teams’ written responses (here are some tips on how to do it well).
But what happens next? If you’ve discovered that you need to improve things — what can you do?
Training is only the first step — it’s not the whole journey.
Training seems to be the most obvious activity. It ticks the people development box, can easily be outsourced, and usually only takes a few hours.
However, it should only be one among many tools.
One-off training sessions can set your team off on a journey of development, but they’ll hardly ever accomplish everything you want to improve.
So we’ve collected our top tips for preparing a fertile ground where the seeds sown in training can grow and blossom.
The good news is, these work in any language — and even with non-native speakers.
1. Create opportunities to read a lot of the best writing.
The most effective way to learn what a good sentence looks like, or how long a paragraph should be, is to experience it.
How to encourage advisors to read
- Collect a weekly list of the best online articles you and your team have come across. You could even game-ify this by adding a content quiz — with a wee prize for the person who answers the most questions correctly.
- Add a reading budget to your staff benefits, covering certain books as well as magazine or newspaper subscriptions.
- Regularly invite journalists, authors and bloggers to your office for a short reading and discussion after work. Serve some nibbles and nice drinks to turn the event into a popular after-work social.
- Create an office library that everyone can borrow from. You can stock it with service-related publications, books on copywriting and team recommendations.
- Set up a book club and allow members to finish work slightly earlier on meeting days. Exchange views on why you’re enjoying the book you’re reading (or not): is it the choice of words? The storytelling? Approaching a book with questions like these will inevitably affect our writing.
2. Create opportunities to write more than just one-off emails and chat messages.
Learning by doing is hugely effective. But let’s face it, most regular customer service writing is quite boring. And it’s hard to develop a skill when you’re struggling to stay awake.
How to get your team to care more about what they’re writing:
- Whenever service levels allow it, let advisors share their expertise on something that’ll be useful to others: knowledge base articles, blog articles, FAQs, email templates…
- Ask everyone on the team to write about a hobby, a cause they’re involved with, or a special skill. Turn the result into a team blog, newsletter, poster series or booklet. The satisfaction and fulfilment derived from such self-expression is also a great booster of team morale. And newbies will feel more at home with their new colleagues.
- Showcase some of your team’s writing in the “About us” section of your website or in your marketing to customers for extra oomph. If this fits with your brand, your customers will love the ‘behind-the-scenes’ nature of such features.
- In all these initiatives, it’s useful to pair writers with strong editors. The process of rewriting is extremely insightful, and you can trust that the results will be of high quality.
3. Create opportunities for individual coaching.
Writing should be as deliberate as possible. — Martin Amis
Everyone’s different and has a different learning curve. While group training can be individualised, one-off sessions just don’t give enough opportunity for trainer and learner to get to know each other. Coaching is a more long-term affair, based on a strong personal relationship.
Here are some tips to get the most out of language coaching:
- Award your best writers with Language Champion roles. They’re best placed to edit their team members’ writing or help with monitoring and recruitment.
- Let your Quality Monitoring feed into coaching sessions with such Language Champions.
- Collect language exercises that can be adapted for coaching punctuation, grammar and style.
- Set constraints for your customer service writing:
- make your advisors take out every cliché and most adjectives;
- ask them to never use the passive voice;
- tell them they need special permission if they want to use more than 20 words in a paragraph or write negative words such as but, however, unfortunately, only.
Your advisors may find this absurd, and they’re probably right. But that’s not the point. Constraints like these teach your team to write simply and clearly.
And as humans, we love constraints: they sharpen our skills and help us work more creatively.
Despite Siri and Alexa, writing may be the 21st-century skill. Good writing can give your support the competitive edge.
If you’d like a hand improving your team’s skills, we’re here to help.