Connection Eats Grammar For Lunch


I originally wrote this post as a guest post for the CXpert blog. Click here to read the original.

You’ve likely heard the famous Peter Drucker quote: Culture eats strategy for lunch. That’s a bit of wisdom that proves itself true time and time again. I’ve borrowed that phrase from Drucker for my title and it’s going to take me several hundred words to explain myself. Bear with me.

In my role at FCR I spend much of my time straddling the line between Customer Satisfaction or Net Promoter Score® (depending on your preference) and quality. For those of you not familiar with life in a contact center, quality assurance is a big deal. We have these itemized lists of criteria that agents are required to fulfill on every customer interaction.

Let’s look at written communication (email, chat, social media, text) for a moment. A typical quality form is likely to include things like correct answers, proper grammar, and adherence to policy and procedure. All good things, right?

Here’s the problem with all of that. I’ve read email after email that was tied to a customer satisfaction survey response, both good and bad, and I’m finding that those aspects of the quality form don’t necessarily predict success. Here are a few things I’ve observed:

Grammar doesn’t matter

I should rephrase and say that grammar doesn’t matter to an extent. Horrible grammar is most certainly a barrier to effective communication and can reflect poorly on your brand. I’m talking about typos, punctuation issues, and the occasional to/too/two mix up.

I’ve read through many interactions that contained such grammatical errors and the customer was still satisfied. I’ve also reviewed a fair share of perfectly composed emails where the customer was dissatisfied. Why?

Correct answers sort of matter

Now let’s think about the way our agents answer questions. Did you know that it’s possible to answer the questions a customer asked and not solve their problem? When customers have a problem, they call support to solve that problem. Sometimes they don’t know what questions to ask (Click to read a recent post about this).

When it comes to the quality form, the agent might very well get full credit for correctly answering questions. That’s all done without knowing whether their problem was solved and whether or not they were satisfied. They very well may have to contact support again or leave the company altogether in frustration.

Policy is policy

Sometimes policy works in favor of the customer and sometimes it doesn’t. Smart companies give agents discretionary amounts of money (some call it a Lifeboat) to keep the customer happy regardless of policy. Sometimes that’s still not enough. Other companies leave their agents with nothing and expect them creatively find ways to make the customer happy using only their words.

I’ve certainly seen customer satisfaction go both ways when policy is enforced. Some customers accept it as policy and are satisfied while others are unhappy. Why is that?

It’s about the CONNECTION!

We’ve asked why excellent grammar, correct answers and sticking to policy sometimes drive customer satisfaction and other times drive dissatisfaction. I think the human connection is a bigger factor in this equation than your quality form would lead you to believe and the differences between good and bad are ever so subtle.

As a customer, have you ever received an email from customer service and been tempted to poke it with a stick to see if it was in fact written by a human or a machine? Customers can smell fake and canned a mile away. Or should I say, they can feel the bitter cold emanating from it.

My point is that customers want to know that a living, breathing human is on the other end of the line. They know that people make grammatical errors sometimes. They of course expect their problem to be solved. They know that policies are sometimes essential to businesses. What they really want to know, however, is that the person helping them has genuine feelings (both positive and negative!). They want someone who will make their day a little better than it was at the start of the conversation. It’s about making a connection.

Here are a handful of things you should absolutely include in every interaction with customers:

  1. Empathy – I’m not talking about “I’m sorry this happened, but…” I’m talking about taking the time to recognize just how frustrating a situation might be for the customer. It’s ok to pause and say “Bummer!”
  2. Positivity – The only thing worse than being a total downer is being totally cold. Dig, scratch and claw at the situation until you can find something positive to say. Think things like “Wow! You’ve been a customer with us for 3 years. That’s incredible. Thank you!!” I’m giving you permission to throw in an exclamation point or two.
  3. Ownership – The greatest fear for any customer is abandonment, and for good reason. Assure the customer that you are there to solve a problem and back up that promise with action. They want commitment.
  4. Focus on what you CAN do – Words like “no” and “unfortunately” are a bummer. In his book, Be Your Customer’s Hero, Adam Toporek teaches us about the pivot. It’s so easy to dwell on what we can’t do for the customer. When we focus on solving the problem, even if it means sending them to another company, it’s stops being about what we can’t do for the customer.

Going back to the customer satisfaction survey, you will always win some and lose some. Make no mistake, I’m not merely talking about suggestions for your customer service team to write better emails here. I’m talking about a communication strategy for engaging your customers in a way that will drive a better customer experience. I can assure you that by making authentic connections with customers you will win more often than you lose.

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One comment

  • YES: What you CAN do…not what you can’t. And of course, never say “unfortunately”. Thanks for the great post, Jeremy. These definitely apply for me in my role in which we are helping about 75% of people contact another company for their answer.

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