Thank you for your patience

Patiently listening while being thanked for my patience.

“Thank you for your patience.”  When I see it in a letter or hear it from a customer service representative, I often think, “Hmmm…but maybe I’m not being patient.”

As a homeowner and business owner in Houston, Texas, I’ve seen and heard this more than usual in the past months.  That’s because we are living in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, when recovery and other services are in high demand and not always readily available.  As a result, so many affected by Harvey’s flooding are routinely thanked for their patience – or understanding, or cooperation.

Out of curiosity, I conducted some informal research.  I asked a few friends how they feel about being thanked in advance for their patience.  I also searched online.  Both friends and the online community reveal the same thing:  phrases like this can be perceived as presumptuous, even insulting.

In an effort to be polite, the person communicating these platitudes may actually offend the customers they are trying to communicate with.  They are thanking the customer for something over which he or she has no choice.

This is a seemingly minor communication faux pas, but it’s now endemic in our culture.  The internet server is down, the flight is delayed, an urgent service call is put on hold for an inordinate amount of time – these are all cases where you can gain or lose a customer simply by how you communicate.  Thanking someone for their patience when they cannot communicate with clients, reach their destination in time for a meeting, or have sewage leaking into their home can seem insensitive.

Is there a better way to handle these situations?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Indicate that you know how inconvenient the situation is and that you will keep them updated.  (Then follow through.)
  • Apologize for the inconvenience and assure the customer that you are working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.
  • Give the customer a time estimate when the problem will be resolved – or if they are on hold, what the “wait time” is.

Many companies are already doing this, and customers do appreciate it.  Most people understand that “stuff happens,” but when it affects important aspects of their lives, they just want as much information as possible about what’s going on and when things will be resolved.  That’s how a company shows respect for its customers.

Posted by Lisa Dimond Vasquez

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Consider paid content as part of your marketing mix

It’s long been known that people love stories that touch their hearts or relate to their experience in some way.  And PR people are good at story-telling.  We’ve been doing it for years – identifying interesting stories relating to our clients’ businesses or organizations for the news media to feature.

Enter content marketing, which provides an opportunity to attract your target audience with story-telling that specifically addresses their needs and desires.  The use of content marketing in public relations is not new; what is somewhat new, however, is the use of a combination of organic (non-paid) and paid content by marketers on their preferred social media platforms.

While paid content is unlikely to take the place of traditional advertising, it is often less expensive and has the benefit of offering some useful information in the form of an article or video, which enhances its credibility.  That makes it a good addition to the overall PR/marketing mix.

Whether paid or organic, here are some essentials to attracting the right audience to your content:

  • Make it Compelling: Your content has to be something that your audience wants to read.  That requires a strong narrative and more focus on their needs and desires and less on your product or service.
  • Target with the Right Platform: Do some research to find the preferred sites for your audience. For starters, Facebook is the top choice for reaching consumers; LinkedIn is better for B2B marketing.
  • Think Video: Attention spans get shorter every year (currently estimated at 8 seconds by a recent Microsoft study), and research shows that nearly 60% of B2B audiences prefer watching video over reading text.
  • Include a “Call to Action”: Free samples, discounts, coupons, etc., are not just ways to get people to try your product or service; they can be an indicator of the effectiveness of your message since they measure audience interest.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Expect the Unexpected: Three Essentials for Communicating During a Crisis

Would you be ready if a crisis occurred at your company?  It wouldn’t have to be a major occurrence – just any unexpected event that disrupts your business.  Are you prepared?

Crisis planning has become a necessity in our digital world, where even small incidents can go viral, shattering company reputations virtually overnight.  But a crisis plan is incomplete without a communications component. When a company is in the middle of a crisis, communication often takes a back seat to action, and that can do as much – or more – damage as the crisis itself.

We have written previously on crisis communications planning.  Here are three essentials for communicating during a crisis:

  1. Don’t delay in communicating the problem. It’s the response – or more likely, the lack of response – to a crisis that causes the situation to escalate into an even bigger problem.  Any delay in responding, or even a tepid response, can add fuel to the fire.
  2. Show concern for those affected. It’s important to show concern for those affected – whether they are employees, customers, or the community.  To quote former President Theodore Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
  3. Be honest about the extent of the crisis. When a crisis occurs, you may not have all the facts at your disposal right away.  However, depending on who is affected, you will have to make some kind of initial statement and updates as new information is available.  What’s most important is to be honest about the extent of any damage and what steps you are taking to address the crisis.

How you communicate during a crisis should be an integral part of your crisis planning – especially if your organization is high profile, operating or moving dangerous materials, or providing products or services directly to consumers.

Communicating well can make damage control much easier.

Posted by Margot Dimond.

 

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Five Steps to a Successful Speech

iStock_000012372602SmallDo you dread making a speech? If you do you have plenty of company.  Studies have shown that fear of public speaking, or Glossophobia, affects three out of four people.  In fact, it ranks as the number one fear, with number two being death – a finding that once prompted comedian Jerry Seinfeld to remark that the average person going to a funeral “would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Today, digital communication is the norm, and while email, text and social media present their own special problems, they are a lot less daunting to the average person than presenting to a group.  The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to ease this fear and become an effective spokesperson for your business, whether your audience is one person or 1,000.

When planning your next presentation, keep these five elements in mind:

  1.  Work backwards. Don’t begin writing a presentation until you have determined what you want the end result to be.  What do you want to move your audience to do?  Is your purpose to inform or persuade, or both?  Identify key points you want your audience to take away, and make them easy to remember.
  2. Know your audience. How many people will be in attendance?  What kind of work do they do?  What is their level of understanding about your subject?  What do they want to hear – and what might upset them?
  3. Be understandable.   Regardless of the level of understanding of your audience, it’s always best to speak in conventional English and avoid technical jargon.  Use analogies, anecdotes and descriptive words to make your points.  Although the temptation is to rush through your presentation to get it over with, remember to take your time and keep your tone measured and friendly.
  4. Be yourself. Be honest, open and sincere.  Tell a story about yourself that relates to the content of your presentation.  Gesture naturally, and move around a bit, if possible, even if you stay close to the podium.
  5. Prepare, prepare, prepare.  None of the above will mean anything if you haven’t spent enough time preparing.  Relying too heavily on a PowerPoint presentation or notes during a speech can be deadly dull.  Instead, rehearse your speech until you can present it comfortably.  Have a friend, family member, or co-worker listen, time it and offer a critique.  Anticipate any audience questions or points they are likely to challenge.

Speaking well in public is a skill, and like any skill, the more you practice, the better you will be at it.  You may well find yourself looking forward to your next presentation!

Posted by Margot Dimond

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The Importance of Being Understood

Earlier in my career, my boss asked me to teach an in-house class on writing.  While I was discussing the importance of using clearly understood words and phrases, one man questioned the entire premise of the class, saying that in order to impress others, it was imperative to use the same terminology used in his profession.  “Otherwise, it’s too simplistic,” he said.

Today, with multiple forms of communication available, attitudes have changed.   Most business people realize the importance of communicating clearly in both writing and speaking.  Unfortunately, it’s easier for some than for others, and one of the main barriers to clear communication is the prevalence of jargon.

JargonJargon – defined as the specialized language of a profession or other group of people – is not all bad.  It can be a handy shorthand within the specific group of people for whom it was intended.   The problem arises when you are speaking to an outside group or even to a group of newcomers within your profession.  That’s when jargon can cause confusion or misunderstandings.  Ultimately, it can have a negative effect on your audience, who may think you are either trying to impress them or are being evasive by hiding behind expressions and acronyms they don’t understand.

Rarely will anyone say anything, however, and this is the real problem.  While you are chattering away, dropping an acronym here and a technical term there, your audience is probably not going to be listening to you.  After the first acronym, they will be drifting away, trying to determine what that stands for, and after a stream of unintelligible jargon, they will often become irritated or lose interest completely.

The use of jargon is not always intentional.  At our firm, we often train clients for media interviews or presentations, and in most cases they don’t even realize they are using jargon.  They have been in a profession or job for so long they think everyone understands their special language.  They have to spend some time untangling their jargon in order to connect with the audiences they want to reach.

Making the effort to remove jargon from your presentations is worth the effort.  When you communicate clearly in everyday language, you are more – not less – likely to impress people.  They will be impressed with your sincerity, thoughtfulness and leadership, and, most important, they will understand you.

Learn to Speak Layman with Lisa Dimond Vasquez.

YouTube ScreenshotPosted by Margot Dimond

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The WII-FM factor: Do you know who your audience is?

Confusion2015 is now halfway over. How is your marketing program going so far? Are the people you are trying to reach – your audience – responding to your efforts to reach them?

The WII-FM factor, or “What’s in it for me,” is about the importance of communicating to your audience from their point-of-view.   If you are having difficulty reaching your audience, perhaps you haven’t correctly identified who they are and what they are interested in.

Spending time upfront identifying your audience is essential in deciding the best method of communication, as Lisa Dimond Vasquez explains here.homescreen_edited-1

 

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Writing with Personality

iStock_000018352153XSmallIn a world of texts, tweets and Instagram postings, does anyone really need to know how to write anymore? Yes! Good writing is still essential, especially in business.

Unfortunately, good writing – writing that is easy to read – is not all that common. Many people who communicate very well in person completely fail in written communication. The most vivacious, interesting people seem to change when they sit down to write; they become more formal, stiff and aloof. It’s as if they think the process of writing is a very serious business, one in which the writer must throw away his personality.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and here are three ways to make your writing as interesting as your in-person communication.

  1. Be Conversational. Writing and speaking should not be all that different, and writing at its best is a conversation with the reader. Use conversational language: “help” instead of “provide assistance,” “do our best” instead of “maximize efforts,” and “show” instead of “exemplify.” Read your work aloud to hear how it “sounds” to the reader.
  2. Use Active Voice. There is nothing more deadening to the written word than excessive use of the passive voice: “Mistakes were made” or “The job was completed,” instead of “I made mistakes” or “We completed the job.”   Whether it’s a way to avoid responsibility or sound humble doesn’t matter. When it comes to communicating, use of the passive voice can be as lively as watching grass grow.
  3. Eliminate Jargon. Every profession has jargon, and jargon often comes in the form of acronyms. When readers unfamiliar with an acronym see it, you’ve immediately lost their attention as they spend time trying to decipher its meaning. Don’t assume your reader understands the shorthand you use with peers. Unless it’s a commonly understood acronym, spell it out.

Try these three tips when you write – and let your personality shine through.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Gallup Survey Offers Wakeup Call to Social Media Marketers

Businessman with social media conceptsIn his 1982 book, Megatrends, futurist John Naisbitt discussed the concept that the more technology takes over our lives, the more we need human interaction. He writes: “What happens is that whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response – that is high touch – or the technology is rejected. The more high tech, the more high touch.”

An interesting new Gallup survey on the impact of social media marketing seems to confirm this, showing that 94% of consumers say they use social media to connect with friends and family and only 29% to follow trends and find product reviews and information. Fully 62% said that social media did not influence their purchasing decisions. In fact, the research showed that most people rely on their friends, family and experts when looking to buy.

This is obviously not a ready audience for traditional advertising. Why then do so many companies continue to treat social media as just another advertising venue – promoting themselves and their products on their Facebook and Twitter pages, hoping that “like” and “fan” numbers will generate sales?

It seems pretty clear that these companies are going to have to rethink their online marketing strategy if they want to make a real impact. They have to generate trust first, and trust is most often generated through two-way communication and transparency.

In reviewing the findings, The Gallup Blog suggested that companies could better utilize social media by being “authentic,” “responsive,” and “compelling.”   In other words, ditch the sales pitch and create an “open dialogue” with consumers; listen to what customers are saying and offer a timely response to negative feedback; and finally, create compelling content – that is, content that readers find valuable and not just promotional.

Conversation between people in an engaged community has always been the most effective type of communication in building a reputation or a brand. In order to be successful, social media marketing – indeed, all marketing – has to perform a similar function.  As Naisbitt wrote more than 30 years ago, “high tech” has to be counterbalanced with “high touch.”

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Defining Public Relations, Part Three: Telling Your Story

iStock_000012372602SmallEffective public relations often involves telling a story, and every organization – whether a business or charity – has a story to tell.  How you tell your story can make all the difference.  It must be true, meaningful and memorable.

A good story engages its audience as no other means of communication can.  As Pamela Rutledge says in an article in Psychology Today,  “when organizations, causes, brands or individuals identify and develop a core story, they create and display authentic meaning and purpose that others can believe, participate with, and share” (“The Psychological Power of Storytelling,” 1/16/11).

Not everyone, however, is adept at telling their organization’s story for a variety of reasons.  Here are some things that may prevent you from telling your story effectively:

  • You are too close to the story to see it clearly.
  • You are so used to talking to other people within your organization, you may assume everyone knows what you know.
  • You use insider jargon that is essentially meaningless to the outside world.
  • Your business has been operating for so long, you have forgotten your story – or, worse, it has become somewhat stale.
  • You’ve become rigid about how your story should be told.

Your story should be about what makes your organization special, how it came to be, and why its work is important.   Here are some essential elements of your story:

Organization.  Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The Beginning:  Talk about your background and how you saw some problem or area of service that you believed you had the answer to; The Middle: Explain how you decided to address the problem; and The End:  Talk about what your organization does now and why it is successful.  The computer industry is full of such stories:  think of Apple’s iconic founding by two guys in a garage, revolutionizing the computer industry.

Simplicity.  Your story does not need to be full of detail.  People who are interested in what you do will inquire about the details, and you can fill them in when they do.  Always have an “elevator” version – a brief synopsis when someone asks what you do at a conference, during a party, or, yes, from one floor to the next on an elevator.

Audience Friendly.  Your story should always be tailored to the audience you are addressing at the time.  For example, your presentation to the CEOs and managers of an industry should not be the same as a presentation to the people specializing in your particular profession.

Keep in mind that even if you tell your story in various ways to match your audience interests, the essential elements should remain consistent.  Repetition is the key to a company story becoming widely known.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Beware of the latest cool communications tool if you haven’t first developed your message

Today’s post by Hollie Geitner is courtesy of WordWrite Communications of Pittsburgh, a fellow member firm of PR Boutiques International.

Some time in the mid-late 1990’s electronic mail (email) became the widely used and preferred mode of business communication. Announcements that had in the past been shared internally by paper memo were soon disseminated electronically via email. Soon after, some companies decided to go “paperless” and ceased publication of their internal company newsletter—much to the dismay of workers who enjoyed reading about a coworker’s wedding or latest hunting prize. I say this jokingly, but it’s true, and there is something to be said for feeling a closeness with your fellow coworkers, even if seeing the 12-point buck picture your cube-mate snagged last month is a bit much.

internal-communications-resized-600The challenge for internal communicators has always been in reaching those who are “front-line” or who don’t sit at a desk all day. When I worked in the corporate communications department for an energy company, about 70 percent of the workforce was in what we considered “the field.” They were lineman, maintenance workers, tree cutters, meter readers and others. Unlike corporate staff, they were out and about all day or running equipment in a power station. If they saw email, it was perhaps at the very end of their shift and often times, they felt out of the loop on company happenings.

Today, the challenge is still there but electronic devices such as smart phones have made communicating with field employees a bit easier. Ragan, the leading source of information for PR and corporate communications, published an article about the growing trend of using digital signs in the workplace. Companies like Auto Trader Group, based in Atlanta, are using digital signs to recruit employees to volunteer in the community as well as to welcome new sales representatives to headquarters for training. While I think it’s a solid strategy for communicating with employees in the places they are in the building (near elevators, on factory floors, etc.) nothing beats person to person communication.

Digital tools—signs, mobile phones, kiosks–are just that, tools. In fact, everything we use to communicate is a tool and the great thing today is that we have more to use than ever before. The risk, however, is in relying too heavily on the tool instead of the message. Nationally, employee engagement is low—only 13 percent according to a recent Gallup poll, State of the American Workplace are actively engaged and committed to their jobs. This means that the majority of employees today are not happy, lack motivation and in the worst cases, spread their dissatisfaction throughout the workplace or in public. It would behoove employers to invest in communicating honest and compelling messages to their employees before they spend thousands on high-tech equipment (tools) to share their message.

It seems so basic and logical, but because messaging can be complicated or uncomfortable and since many leaders are so busy just trying to keep things afloat and make a profit, it may appear more doable to purchase a tool to share a message because then the impact is immediate. “Wow, look at that cool new digital sign in our lobby. It makes us look so high-tech and cutting edge.” Sure, it might, but what do your employees think? Are they reading the messages on it, or are they silently cursing leadership for spending money on unnecessary equipment when all they are interested in is whether or not they are doing a good job for the company and if they’ll be compensated for it with a bonus.

While the latest bells and whistles for sharing messages with employees seem way cool, I would caution companies considering implementing them. Before such an investment, it’s best to have a solid communications plan in place with real and authentic messages that will actually resonate with employees and move the needle on engagement.

Communicate to the middle

In companies with several layers between field employees and top executives, the most effective communication often occurs between manager or supervisor and employer. This is because they have more direct contact with each other on a daily basis. A bunch of messages from the CEO on digital signs will do nothing to engage employees, but meaningful conversations and an open line of communication between leadership and employee will.

Focusing your efforts to the middle and teaching those leaders the best way to communicate with employees is a much more strategic and meaningful investment.  Remember, if nothing else, it is the message, not the tool that is most important. Beware of what we call at WordWrite, “the shiny object syndrome.” Don’t be compelled to invest in the latest or coolest tool, like a digital sign, if you haven’t first put together a comprehensive strategy for what you plan to share with employees and how you plan to measure it.

 

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