When Your Customers Are Talking, Quiet Your Brand Voice and Listen.

"Brand voice" is an important concept for maintaining message consistency but it is not more important than your customers.

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By Jason Maynard

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We've all heard that writing according to the company style guide is good for customers because it creates brand voice consistency. But does that still apply when customers are looking for help? When it comes to self-service, the brand voice can often be tone deaf. It may be time to trade in the traditional brand voice for a more adaptive, empathetic approach to communication that puts the customer's language and style, not your brand's, at the center.

The customer's voice is what matters.

When customers are in the middle of a support issue and are searching for answers, they're not thinking in your brand language, technical jargon or corporate-speak. They're framing their problem in their own, often frustrated, imprecise, messy terms.

Related: The 8 Elements of Persuasive Ad Copy

One task of self-service knowledge is to close the gap between a customer's framing of their problem and your solution. To do this, you need to remove obstacles to communication and understanding. That means meeting your customers on every possible channel and speaking with them the same way they speak to you -- as one person to another, possibly informally, possibly idiomatically and always empathetically.

Empathy is key.

Psychology tells us that to build trust and credibility with fellow humans -- which is the essence of effective support -- we have to be empathetic.

The way we do this in real life is by mirroring one another's behavior and language. Have you ever noticed that when speaking to another person, you tend to automatically mirror their body language? If your friend tilts her head to the left, you might do it too. We also tend to repeat each other's words and phrases to demonstrate that we're listening and that we understand what they're saying. For self-service knowledge to work, the main tool for building empathy is mirroring language. Use the same words your customers do, in the way they use them, so they are assured you really understand their problems.

Related: 3 Simple Ways to Increase Empathy at Work

If you make this shift effectively, everything about self-service gets better. Your customers will find the right articles more easily, they'll understand them better, and they'll feel better about helping themselves. Your search results get better because you'll be using keywords that match their own concepts, and if you use bots like our own Answer Bot to match topics with articles, the results will improve dramatically.

Simplifying terms for self-service.

In the knowledge world, the way you refer to topics, concepts, reactions or problems can vastly impact how customers can find that knowledge using search. If you want to help customers help themselves, don't be fancy with the language. Be empathetic and simple. Drop the brand voice and mimic your customer's approach.

For example, if I'm having a "screen freeze" but your knowledge base is talking about "occasional timeouts" because that's how you discuss the issue internally, will I find the solution article? Probably not as quickly or easily as I could if you'd used my understanding of the problem to frame the issue. That gap will often lead to frustration and support costs.

Similarly, if the knowledge base lists "official returns policy," and I am searching for "how to get my money back," I won't see your helpful content. Ultimately, if I'm left frustrated and lost in your well-intentioned, but off-target, language, it will cost your organization in NPS scores, loyalty and satisfaction.

Related: 4 Essentials for Building a Well-Mannered Customer Service Chatbot

How far will you go?

Part of the challenge is simple to operationalize. As you create or refresh your knowledge base, be sure to use incoming support questions to dial the language into what your customers say. By reflecting the customer's language back to them, you can let them know you understand their situation. But this strategy has even further implications than simple word matching. It's about taking their words and perspective fully onboard as you write articles or even talk to customers in person. And it boils down to empathy.

Does your content strategy have room to be more empathetic and mirror your customer's language? If it does, take a hard look at how you can be simplifying and rephrasing the content in your knowledge base. Your customers will thank you for it in NPS scores, better self-service rates and more brand loyalty, which is what you were hoping for in the first place.

Jason Maynard

VP & GM, Zendesk Guide

Jason Maynard is the vice president and general manager Guide & Data Products at Zendesk. He heads up Zendesk's analytics and machine learning teams that build products that improve customer relationships using data.

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