Your financial institution communicates to your constituents every day through the written word, whether it’s through the copy on websites, sales materials, internal documents, or emails. You know what the words are saying literally, but is your tone helping or detracting from that message?
Whether you’re writing an email to a coworker, a memo, or a sales brochure, your words are saying more than what appears on the surface. Tone adds to the subtext of a document and, if used poorly, can make it sound less human-centered and more like your institution is a machine.
If you’re worried that your default tone is as cold as metal, consider trying one of these techniques to sound friendlier.
1. Acknowledge the reader’s emotions, good and bad.
Something innately human is our ability to empathize with each other. If you were communicating bad news in person, you’d probably phrase things in a way that would hurt them the least and show the most understanding. On the other hand, if you’re telling someone good news, you might very well show excitement and share in their joy.
For example, here are two ways to phrase a situation in which a page does not appear as expected:
- Robot-speak: Page unavailable. Refer to customer service.
- Humanized: We’re sorry, but this page is not available. Our customer service representatives will be happy to help you find what you’re looking for.
In the first example, the message is terse and impersonal. It makes me wonder if the customer service representative will be just as unfriendly as this message sounds. In the second, the writer is expressing empathy by apologizing for the issue and happily offering a solution.
Here are two ways to tell someone their application for something is accepted.
- Robot-speak: Application accepted. Details attached.
- Humanized: Congratulations! Your application was accepted. We’ve attached a document that tells you everything you need to know about your new line of credit.
The first example is not very helpful, and overall it comes across as curt or automated. It’s almost a letdown because it sounds so anti-climactic. An accepted application is good news, after all. The message is also a little unclear in reference to the attachment. What exactly is the attachment? We can’t really know for sure. The second example sounds like a friend who is happy for your good news and is referring you to a helpful, relevant resource.
In general, some ways to reflect emotion could be to say ‘sorry,’ or to use a single exclamation point when expressing good news. You do want to be careful when using these strategies. Exclamation points, for example, can go from friendly to frenetic when overused. In general, think about the recipient’s feelings and show that you recognize things from their perspective.
2. Consider contractions.
No, we’re not talking about having a baby. This is the phrase used to describe when two words are combined using an apostrophe. Using contractions can immediately give your communications a more informal, friendly vibe. However, you may want to use this caution. Contractions aren’t appropriate for every situation. Let’s look at an example both with and without contractions:
- Robot-speak: The loan officer cannot assist if you are calling after 5:00 p.m.
- Humanized: Sorry, but our loan officer can’t help if you’re calling after 5:00 p.m.
3. Just ‘me’ and ‘you’.
You want your customers’ loyalty and trust, and they want to get to know you better too. Don’t be afraid to refer to customers as ‘you’ when speaking directly to them and to use ‘us,’ ‘our,’ and ‘we’ in reference to your institution. When people avoid identifying the subjects of sentences, they are forced to use a more passive voice. Passive voice is not only more confusing, but more robotic-sounding as well.
Here’s an example of this concept.
- Robot-speak: The request is currently being processed. Email notification will be provided when complete.
- Humanized: We’re processing your request and will email you when it’s complete.
4. Apply it!
Evaluate your current tone for written communications, and examine where a friendlier, more humanized tone might be appropriate. After all, if you want your constituents to feel welcome walking through your doors, you need the right invitation.