My Customers Won’t Talk to Me!

Q. My customers must love my products and services because they keep returning. But they don’t send thank you letters, they don’t compliment me or my staff, and if I ask them how we did, they say “Great!” That doesn’t tell potential new customers anything. What’s with them?

A. Customers are only human. They know they are talking to the head of a business they like, so they want to give you what you want. But they aren’t sure exactly what to say (they expect you want marketing jargon and they don’t know how to speak jargon); are shy about revealing their ignorance of the specifics of what you did; and feel resentful about having to invent something right now or about confronting endless surveys. The wise approach is to put a third party into the mix.

Strong Interviews Lead to Strong Testimonials

Here’s how I handle customer interviews to make sure they deliver testimonials and information you can use to market, align, and improve your business.

  • First, I interview you to find out what you think you accomplished for that customer and how how that particular job reflects your overall business and its goals.
  • Then, I contact your customer (after you’ve prepared the way with a brief email or phone call) to ask for a 15-minute interview at the customer’s convenience. That time limit is most important.

I ask the customer leading questions, listen to the answers, and base my next question(s) on those answers. We take a journey together through the customer’s experience, with no previous expectations. I ask the hard questions, too; for example, what would you do differently next time to solve your problem? What should the company do differently? I can ask those questions because I am not the business owner, and I can negotiate confidentiality if that’s necessary. I keep the interview on target and deep dive for differentiators.

Finally, I create one or more strong testimonials, which I then submit to the customer for the customer’s approval. Or I create an entire case study, which I submit to you first (to make sure the content matches your goals) and then to the customer for approval. Because I listen well and ask insightful, respectful questions, most testimonials and case studies return from the customer with minor if any changes.

Strong Testimonials Connect with Potential Customers

The result: You have testimonials that actually say something in clear, everyday language that speaks to potential customers. You learn facts about your business and the customer experience that you may never have expected. You have the basis for or a complete case study that explains exactly what you do and how you do it.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications has over a decade of experience in interviewing business owners and their customers. If you want testimonials that work hard for your business in the marketplace, contact us today.

Telling the Truth When You Write

I began my career as a technical writer and for years I thought of marketing as the evil empire. Technical writers are concerned with accuracy, clarity, and consistency. Marketing writers? As far as I could see, they would say anything to sell–they knew little about the product or service and cared less.

Then I discovered something: customers like the truth. They like the truth as much as I do. They look askance at promises that might never be delivered or at claims that have nothing to back them up. They are tired of hearing empty phrases, like “state-of-the-art, superior, best-in-class service” because everyone, from the airline they fly to the local coffee shop, promises state-of-the-art, superior, best-in-class service.

How do your customers know if you are telling the truth? You provide photos, testimonials, case studies (I love case studies!), awards, and details on industry standards that you meet. You describe continuing education, certifications, and participation or leadership in industry events. You share your expert advice and experience.

The truth is also revealed by the way you write: with accuracy, clarity, consistency and a focus on the information customers want mostdo you understand my problem and how will you solve it? Every customer problem and question is worthy of consideration. Your goal is to find and share answers to the most pressing customer questions. And admit when you don’t have the answer.

Every company has something that makes it uniquely qualified to help its customers, because every company is the result of someone’s unique vision. Let customers know about you. The truth about your company is a major differentiator. Did you start or build your company because you identified a lack in your region, took a different approach in your field, recognized an opportunity that others missed, wanted a chance to help others, found an outlet for your creativity, discovered a neglected customer need? All or none of the above?

My background as a technical writer means that I have worked in fields as diverse as construction, coaching, manufacturing, healthcare, software development, and retail. Regardless of the industry, I have kept and verified my belief that customers appreciate the truth as much as I do. After all, aren’t we all customers of someone?

When you tell the truth about your company, you enable customers to connect with you. You build a relationship based on a firm foundation, which means customers will return again and again. Let me help.

4 Questions before You Start Writing

You’ve heard the maxim “know thyself”? In your rush to spread the word about your products and services, you may have forgotten an equally important maxim: Know thy customer.

All writing is written for someone to read; even a private diary is written for one’s self. So here are four questions you must answer before you start writing.

  1. Whom are you writing for? Your writing takes on a different tone for the new CEO of a company searching for a coach and the homeowner who needs emergency roof repair. Be realistic: you may want to reach the top five billionaires in the world, but is there any chance they will want to purchase a billion dollars worth of your widgets? What you write depends on who your customers are. The better you know them, the better chance you will have of grabbing their attention.
  2. Where do your customers hang out? A daily tweet might go nowhere whereas a weekly blog post catches exactly the customers you want. Your salespeople might appreciate printed brochures to leave with customers after a personal contact; they might prefer e-brochures for online contacts. What you write depends on where your audience looks for you.
  3. How much tolerance do your customers have for repeated contacts? Whether you create an online or paper campaign or both (eblasts, tweets, blog posts, postcards, brochures, newsletters), at some point your customers will become annoyed rather than intrigued. Know when to stop writing.
  4. Will they be interested in what you have to write? Customers are looking for a solution to a problem, whether it is how to etch semiconductors or where to find a prom dress. Details of your company philosophy and history, a laundry list of products and services that are irrelevant to their problem or a recap of your last sales campaign–that can wait. What you write depends on what your customers want to hear.

Are you having trouble figuring out who you are writing for, where they hang out, how much you should write and what you should write about? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications and we’ll help you find the answers.

 

Video Instructions: 5 Golden Rules

Many companies have now turned to video for showing customers how to use their product. Videos are an excellent way to connect with customers. However, they should still follow the five golden rules for good instructions.

  1. Never assume. Start your instructions from the very beginning–that might mean showing the viewer or reader how to plug in the product or where to find the start button. If you are offering a series of videos, building in complexity or detail, make sure you refer to the previous videos for viewers who are not aware they are starting in the middle.
  2. Be consistent. Always refer to buttons, menu items, the names of previous videos (or chapters), operations, processes, and so on using the same exact terms. Your viewer will quickly become confused if the same screen shot is called the “home page,” the “opening screen,” or “screen 1” in different videos or different parts of the same video.
  3. Be thorough. Before your release a video or written procedures, follow the instructions using only the steps in the video or on the page. If you find your hands doing something else, revise. You overlooked a step and you are in danger of losing your audience.
  4. Be exact. It’s easy to tell a customer “click here” or “see this” or “move this way” without ever defining here” or “this.” But your customers may have no idea what you’re referring to no matter how carefully they watch or read. In addition, customers often try to follow directions while actually working on the product. How can video viewers tell what “click here” means unless they are looking directly at the screen?
  5. Go slow. The best instructions are divided into discrete steps that viewers or readers can master at their own speed. Readers have a lot of control over speed; viewers have very little. If video instructions come at viewers too fast, they have to pause and backtrack and pause and backtrack. All that backtracking interferes with their learning and enjoyment.

You may want to provide written procedures that customers can download based on your videos. The written procedures and videos should at least complement each other even if they aren’t exact duplicates. It they contradict each other, you have a major problem.

Would you benefit from help in creating clear scripts and written procedures for your customers? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today.

Finding & Telling Your Marketing Story: Part II

In a previous blog, I wrote about the importance of appealing to the senses and using visuals (photographs, videos) in marketing stories. In this blog, I’d like to focus on another aspect of great story telling: characters.

All stories have characters, even if the only character is the narrator. But as a business owner you have access to a slew of characters:

  • Yourself
  • Your staff
  • Your former customers
  • The audience you are writing for (past, future and/or current customers).

As I’ve often mentioned before, the most powerful phrase in marketing is “we can solve your problem.” That one phrase includes two strong characters, the “we” (the business owner and staff) and the “you” (the customer). Give that “we” more personality by writing blog posts or articles or online biographies that introduce you and your staff. Let your character shine forth in Q&A (FAQ) pages. Even if they aren’t customer-facing, let your staff make their presence known in photos and Meet the Team pages.

As for your former customers, they are truly “well rounded characters” and a great source of marketing stories, especially case studies and success stories. Please interview them! When I interview customers for my clients, I am always amazed at the generosity of the interviewees in sharing their time and their experiences to help another business. They recount experiences that make more positive, more detailed and more compelling stories than the business owner could have imagined.

Every story benefits from characters that seem to step right off the page; and your customers, staff and you are just such characters. Let your marketing story benefit from characters that lift your dry recital of facts to another level, where people are communicating directly with each other. I’ll be happy to help.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications provides freelance writing services for companies in New Hampshire and throughout the US.

Websites That Drive Customers Crazy

The other day I had nearly finished purchasing an item on a retail website, and I couldn’t find the Continue or Next (or even Purchase) button. The only button on the page was labeled Add More. I didn’t want to add a second item; I wanted to purchase my first item.

When I called the store for assistance, they explained that the Add More button had the exact same function as Continue or Next. I always encourage creative content, but not when it interferes with the expectations of customers who are sure to believe that “Add More” means…add more.

One way to find out if your website is driving customers crazy is to ask yourself if you would patronize a company whose website worked and sounded like yours. Another way is to ask your customers what bothers them. Yet another way is to ask your help desk staff because they must answer the same questions from irritable customers all day long. Here are four sure ways to drive customers crazy:

  • Use popups that pop up right over the item the customer is most interested in. If the dismissal button is obvious, irritation is short lived; but many video popups are impossible to exit until the entire video finishes. Customers might very well decide to leave the page and the site rather than be held captive. Constant music or sound effects also risk driving customers away.
  • Don’t check your internal and external website links. Customers are driven crazy by links that don’t work. If you haven’t checked the links on your website for a while, please check them now. Please.
  • Change your content midway through the website. On the website for one IT service company, a free offer changed scope from page to page. Inconsistencies confuse customers but also send the message that you overlook details, even important ones like what exactly you are giving away.
  • Refuse to communicate. First, hide your contact information. Then give the phone number as a word (1-800-DONTCALL) that has to be translated into numbers. And when the customer calls the number, provide only three or four extremely narrow options, with no possibility of selecting “other.” So by the time the customer reaches a live person, the customer is already livid.

When you drive your customers crazy with your website, you lose money, whether through constant calls to your help desk, lost sales, costly mistakes in content, lost repeat customers or high employee stress and turnover.

A website review by TWP Marketing & Technical Communications examines your website page by page, item by item, to make sure that the content is clear, accurate and interesting and that everything works. This cost-effective solution helps keep your relationship with customers positive from first click to last. Contact us today.

 

6 Biggest Writing Mistakes

1. Turning your writing into a vocabulary test. Most small words have more energy than big ones and communicate faster. While some multi-syllable words can’t be avoided (“multi-syllable” being a good example), many of them are simply barriers to clear, passionate writing–for example, utilize, capability, and actionable.

2. Forgetting your audience. You have a goal: to write about everything your company can do and has done, so that the world will be impressed enough to beat a path to your door. But your customers are not looking for a company that does everything for everyone; your customers are looking for a trustworthy solution to their specific problem. When you write, write to meet your customers’ goals.

3. Giving your audience too much credit. If your customers were as knowledgeable as you are, they wouldn’t need you. You have skills, experience, and tools that your customers lack. Slowly guide them to understanding what you offer, using words, pictures, examples, and comparisons they can easily grasp.

4. Failing to recognize the power of pictures. Use graphs, illustrations, videos, and photographs whenever you can to replace paragraphs and pages of description. A great layout can add just the right emphasis and eye-candy to attract customers; a professional graphic designer is well worth using.

5. Overlooking the need to organize. Websites are divided into pages; blogs into posts; white papers into sections; manuals into chapters. Each of those divisions should have a single subject. If, for example, I shifted gears mid-way through this blog post to explain how to write a press release, you would be justifiably confused. It’s okay if your first draft is a brain dump. But then you have to organize the material so that it flows–and delete what doesn’t belong.

6. Falling in love with your own words. Set aside anything you write for at least 24 hours, then proofread, proofread, proofread and edit, edit, edit. Until you examine what you wrote with a fresh eye, you have no way of knowing if you truly communicated.

Sharon Bailly is the founder of TWP Marketing & Technical Communications which helps companies reach their customers online and in print. Our words mean business.

Freelance Writing: Why I Write

From the moment I could hold a pen, I started writing–before I could spell a word, I scribbled. At first, the lure was tactile: the smooth flow of ink on paper, the thought that someday my ideas might be enshrined forever and ever on that clean white sheet.

As time went on, another factor entered into my love of writing: communication. Here was a way I could say what I wanted to say, in the exact words and with the exact feelings that were so hard to find at a moment’s notice. Writing gave me the time and freedom to say what needed to be said. Unfortunately, it those days, my writing hero was Charles Dickens, and it took me a while to learn that clear communication required–well, clear writing: short, exact words; short sentences; crisp pacing.

Finally, I discovered that the ability to communicate clearly in writing held value for other business owners in other industries. They valued good writing for its ability to connect them with their customers; but they were inventors, builders, thinkers, managers and sellers, not writers. They needed my skill.

After 20+ years working for technical companies and technical publications, I moved to New Hampshire and became a freelance writer, branching out to help not only my old employers but companies in the retail, construction, service, financial, energy, medical and green industries.

As a freelance writer, I help businesses reach their customers and help customers find the solutions they need. My writing grows businesses, connects individuals and solves problems. What more could I want?

5 Top Reasons Why Writing Is Still Important

Reason 1: We all write. Whether we call it blogging, tweeting, emailing, or “content,” it is still writing.

Reason 2: We can say some pretty awful things if we aren’t careful. We can misspell “vision” as “version” or “manager” as “manger” or misuse “compliment” when we mean “complement” or “they’re” when we mean “their”–which results in “Our corporate version inspires our mangers and compliments they’re strengths.”

Reason 3: We can undermine our own message. As I’ve mentioned before, some words weaken messages, including “can,” “simply,” “of course,” “approximately in the range of,” and “not.” If something is worth saying, it’s worth saying with conviction.

Reason 4: Customers deserve clarity, and businesses benefit from it. When customers must work to understand what a business is saying, they quickly give up. That means customers don’t find the solutions they need, and businesses don’t get the business they need.

Writing is important. For me, good writing is a passion. Let TWP Marketing & Technical Communications show you the way to clear, strong, accurate and passionate writing.

Put Your Marketing Message in FOCUS

Whenever a website or brochure begins with a list of all the services and products the company offers, I cringe. Lists don’t tell me, the consumer, what I most need to know: can this company solve my problem? From the company’s perspective, of course, the difficulty is in figuring out which problem. And that’s where FOCUS comes into play.

FOCUS stands for friendliness, opportunity, currency, up-selling and satisfaction. Every marketing message needs FOCUS:

Friendliness: Think of times you’ve wades through someone’s list of products and services searching for the exact one that addresses your problem; or you were treated to hundreds of words about how great a company is without ever quite understanding what the company does. When you focus your message, you guide your customers quickly to the information they need–and they are grateful.

Opportunity: What do most of your customers ask for most often? What complaints do they make most frequently about your competition? Your marketing message should focus on those gaps and explain how you’ll fill them.

Currency: We all need to make an income. What product or service brings you a steady income you can live with? That one deserves top billing in your marketing message.

Up-selling: Sometimes the item customers want most is not the item that brings you the most income (or satisfaction). But it provides an opening for you to demonstrate your skill, forge a relationship and suggest other products and services.

Satisfaction: We do best what we enjoy most. When you find that sweet spot where your customer’s needs match what you like to do, then you have a viable business and a very strong marketing message.

Do you need help to FOCUS your marketing message? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications; clear, focused writing is what we do.