Are You Positive?
You get home after a long day. You open the mail. You see that a letter has come from your financial services provider—ah, it must be a confirmation of transferring funds to your niece’s educational savings account. You open the letter and it starts with:
“Unfortunately, we can’t initiate the transfer of funds. It is against our policy to accept transfer instructions without a letter of authorization. You must provide a letter of authorization at your branch.”
Just what you need—to be told what can’t be done and that you have to do something else. What if instead of that letter, you received a phone call from a service representative or even a different letter saying:
“We’ll be happy to help with your funds transfer request. All we need is the completed letter of authorization. We’ve enclosed the form, and a postage paid envelope.”
Totally different feeling, right?
A simple change to a positive tone and the rearrangement of a few words can make a significant impact on how a client feels in that exact moment when they are directly experiencing your brand. Indeed, you’re making a statement about how you relate to your clients at every single client touch point—including account service letters.
Many companies put all of their voice and tone emphasis on their marketing communications, leaving operational or account servicing communications out in the cold (no wonder those letters might be so negative!). Consider for a moment that a client may receive far more operational communications than marketing pieces, and you can see where there becomes a disconnect between what the marketing team thinks the client is getting, and what the client actually experiences.
The opportunity and solution lies in customer experience, marketing, and operations teams working together to create a set of easy to follow communications guidelines that capture brand principles, writing styles, and writing strategies. When developing communications guidelines, we always recommend to that our clients look at how their voice and tone come across in operational or account servicing communications—especially whether the voice is negative or positive. There are often a lot of quick fixes (i.e. really negative letters) that can be made to create a positive change in the client experience.
There are many wonderful experts in the field of using positive language, particularly in training programs for staff who are on the front lines, interacting with clients every day. Google “positive language in customer service” and you will discover a great list of resources.
Many of the tools used in shifting customer service interactions to positive language can also be used in written communications. One of the most used negative words in operational communications is “unfortunately,” as we demonstrated at the beginning of this post. There may well be cases when you can’t get away from using the word “unfortunately,” but we’re willing to bet that you could reorder a few words and shift the tone to positive language for most communications.
Here’s another example of negative versus positive language from Robert Bacal at Bacal & Associates:
Negative: "We regret to inform you that we cannot process your application to register your business name, since you have neglected to provide sufficient information. Please complete ALL sections of the attached form and return it to us."
Positive: "Congratulations on your new business. To register your business name, we need some additional information. If you return the attached form, with highlighted areas filled in, we will be able to send you your business registration certificate within two weeks. We wish you success in your new endeavor."
The contrast is night and day.
The good news is that once you start using positive language, it becomes habit. And you can be positive that your clients will appreciate it.
When it Comes to Your Money, Does the Truth Hurt?
“We’ve been arguing about this for year, and here we are in our 50’s. It’s time to stop!” Laura said empathically.
Paul’s downcast eyes and silence spoke volumes.
Laura continued, “We’ve worked with several advisors who have tried to help us invest our money in a sensible way. Then whenever the market goes down, Paul calls the advisor and tells him to sell everything! In all these years, no matter how much we work to build our financial security, we’re always playing catchup.”
Her words hung like a rain cloud about to burst when Paul began to speak. “I know, I know. I just can’t help it. I get nervous that we’re going to lose all our money. When the market goes down, I scramble—in my thoughts and in my actions. The driving force behind it is: At least if it’s in cash, the balance won’t go down.”
This is the moment where I felt I could lend my advice. First, I needed to learn about this particular couple and their values. Then, I could begin helping them take control of their finances.
“Tell me Paul,” I said. “What did you learn about money growing up? What messages did you hear as a child about money? From your father? From your mother?”
Paul’s eyes moved up and to the left, indicating his mind was reaching for memory. “My parents never talked to us kids about money, really. The one thing that stands out is my grandfather talking about The Great Depression and how it was such a tragic time. My parents both worked, but they never made a lot of money. They fought about money sometimes.”
“Any other memories about money?”
“Actually, yes. I remember when my father took me to the bank to open up a passbook savings and how exciting it was. The bank manager typed the passbook on this old manual typewriter and gave it to me. He showed me how the interest on the account added to the amount I deposited. I felt very grown up that day! But I guess that was the sum total of money training from my parents.”
“Can you help me understand how you and Laura make financial decisions?”
The question couldn’t be more impactful if a boulder had landed on his head. While Laura looked at Paul with a mildly accusatory glare, Paul searched for something to say that would keep his well-conceived protective fortress from crumbling. I interjected to ease the tension. I could feel the guilt in the air.
“Let me frame that another way, Paul and Laura. We all do the best we can as we live our lives. Let’s face it, our lives are filled with responsibilities in our families and our jobs, not to mention outside interests, health, and friends. While financial issues are important, unless you either have the knowledge and experience—or the help, most people avoid getting too deep into the confusion of managing their finances by doing the very least they can. What we don’t know scares us. So we defer, delay, make rash decisions based on our lack of time, knowledge, desire. Add a dash of fear to that equation, and you have a formula for financial problems. I want you to know, you are not alone. It’s more common than you could even imagine. The question is, do we allow the truth in so that we can move forward?”
It’s important to admit the truth behind our actions in order to rectify past and future mistakes or regrets. Living in denial only perpetuates making decisions that could potentially lead to financial disaster.
“I hate to admit it,” Paul said. “I guess in my desire to protect Laura from stress, I’ve made decisions that have hurt us, and I’m sorry. Michael, you hit the nail on the head. You defer, avoid, and allow your emotions to take over. And as a result, bad stuff happens. I think I’m ready to ask for help.”
Laura’s expression softened, and said, half-kiddingly, “You think?”
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