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Blog Post

Why Tone is Critical in Customer Support

Melanie Polkosky PhD – SVP CX
May 11, 2020
Why Tone is Critical in Customer Support at Sweepr

Tone. It’s a key design consideration for compelling, human interactions, even those with technology. Not only is a friendly, competent, concise and empathetic tone an essential component of high-quality support, it’s critical to outcomes like customer satisfaction.

Recently, a somewhat disheveled man rang my doorbell in the middle of a sunny afternoon and stated he was here to jackhammer a hole in my driveway.

“Excuse me?” I exclaimed, astonished.

He said my gas meter was going to be changed but the pipe ran under my driveway and had to be cut.

“So, if you got a car in your garage, I suggest you get it out,” he said.

“Now? You’re going to do it right now?” I asked.

“Yeah, so you better get that car out right now if you wanna be able to go anywhere.”

He and a group of coverall-clad assistants did indeed jackhammer my driveway. Several hours later, I found myself calling multiple 1-800 numbers with increasing alarm to find out when my heat and hot water would be working again.

The customer service agent who answered my frantic third call abruptly stated that the ticket was open.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t know what that means,” I said.

“The ticket. I said the ticket is open. It’s open,” she hissed.

“Right now it’s open? Does that mean someone is still coming to complete the meter replacement today?”

“The ticket is open until 11pm. Do you need anything else?”

Unknown to all of these individuals, I was lucky enough to be a featured UX expert in the recently published book Writing is Designing: Words and the User Experience by my friend Michael Metts and his co-author Andy Welfle. They highlighted my research on tone in customer service interactions, which they define as the way language is used to convey brand and respond to a customer.

But tone certainly isn’t limited to just human-to-human encounters.

Two decades of my own design research and practice has shown me that our expectations of tone transfer to e-service user experiences too. In fact, effective use of tone requires both service providers and digital interfaces to consider the context of an interaction, including a user’s intention and mood. Metts and Welfle call this “meeting people where they are.”

"The required prerequisite for effective tone is an understanding of the user and their context"

If I was to describe the tone of the service providers involved in the driveway jackhammering and meter replacement, I’d use words like detached and impatient, as well as disgusted, annoyed and hostile. Not only did they come to the interaction with a tone that was not conducive to serving me well but it devolved from there.

Regardless of how they initiated interaction with me, what these providers importantly didn’t consider was my emotional context: surprise in the middle of a workday by an extreme and unexpected situation, concern for damage to my property, then fear that my children would not have heat on a cold winter night.

The required prerequisite for effective tone is an understanding of the user and their context.

When the user has limited knowledge of the topic area of an interaction and is in a state of stress, tone becomes the difference between a brand-enhancing interaction and one that causes churn.

Not only is a friendly, competent, concise and empathetic tone an essential component of high-quality support, it’s critical to outcomes like customer satisfaction and loyalty.

That’s why we prioritize understanding self-service consumers in as much detail as possible at Sweepr. It’s not enough to gather the technical context of network problems so that our self-service can be efficient and effective, although that’s important too. By knowing the range of digital consumers’ responses to technology problems, as well as their mood and intentions, we craft support experiences that are not only usable and satisfying, but even delightful and fun.

Tone.

It’s a key design consideration for compelling, human interactions, even those with technology.

For more on Sweepr’s approach to content development for self-service consumers, contact us at hello@sweepr.com.

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