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Customer-focused writing (and why you should use it)

Valerie KhooThe world of business writing has come full circle when it comes to communicating with customers. In the past, people were encouraged to write work-related documents in ‘business speak’. That meant official-sounding documents full of formal language. Thankfully, language has evolved – and so has the world of business communication.

These days, it’s all about customer-focused writing. And that’s not just your customers and clients, it’s also your wider community – whether you’re writing for internal staff or other stakeholders. So what is customer-focused writing? And how does it differ from other kinds of business writing?

Customer-focused writing is all about making sure that your customers are front and centre in your mind when you are crafting any messages.

1. A clear picture of your customer

Always have a clear picture of your customer. What do they look like? What do they want? What are their hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations? Too often, we get caught up in what we want to tell customers and forget about paying attention to what they really want to hear.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and work out the information they really want to know from you. Ask yourself what their pain points are. In other words, determine what their frustrations are and how your product or service can help them overcome that frustration. But don’t jump in there and rave on about how you can provide the solution. They first need to hear that you understand their pain. They need to know that you know what they are going through. If you do this right, then you’ll be the company that ‘gets’ that customer segment and you’ll be the one they turn to when they are ready to buy.

2. The power of the word ‘you’

Don’t be afraid to speak directly to the customer by using the word ‘you’. I’m often amazed at how often this word is avoided. But it can be the most engaging and empowering word you can use in your writing.

Look at these two examples. Which one is more engaging?

(a) You can try on the clothes in the lounge area before heading through to the checkout.
(b) Customers are required to try on clothes in the lounge area before heading through to the checkout.

It’s a subtle change – but it does make a difference. How many signs in your premises or messages on your website could be tweaked to speak directly to the customer?

3. Active phrases

In the days of yore, business language was littered with passive sentences. However, it’s far more engaging to use active words and phrases.

Examples:

PASSIVE: The ball was thrown by John.
ACTIVE: John threw the ball.

or,

PASSIVE: A certificate will be issued to all eligible businesses.
ACTIVE: All eligible businesses will be issued a certificate.

You might wonder whether such subtle differences really do have an impact. However, it can be the difference between sounding warm and accessible to sounding aloof and maybe even uncaring.

4. FAQs save you time and money

Brainstorm all the frequently asked questions you’re likely to get from customers. If possible, incorporate all the answers into your written communication. The reason for this is that when readers read a message, they get frustrated if that piece of writing provokes questions that then goes unanswered.

When you leave your readers or customers frustrated, they will either simply remain dissatisfied, or they will contact you for clarification. This could be good or bad, depending on whether you have the capacity to deal with these queries. If you aren’t able to do so in a timely manner, you end up causing more frustration. So answer as many questions as possible in your original message.

Ultimately, customer-focused writing boils down to showing that you care about a one-on-one connection. Old-fashioned phrases and formal expressions indicate that you want a distant relationship with your customers – or that you’re out of touch. Don’t be guilty of either.

Valerie Khoo is Managing Director of the Sydney Writers’ Centre in Milsons Point, Sydney. As one of Australia’s leading centres for writing training, the centre runs short courses to help people write with confidence and improve their business communication skills. Valerie blogs about storytelling and small business at www.ValerieKhoo.com.

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