Finding Your Digital Voice

Can you tell the difference between these four statements?


Yeah, exactly. Neither can I.

We might be intending to convey any of these: 


But how can you tell? More importantly, how can your audience tell?

Communicating through text alone, you lose those subtle audio-visual cues that you take for granted and subconsciously process during in-person interactions. This causes misinterpretation, aggravation and plain old confusion as everyone projects their own biases and assumptions on the digital conversation.

It's a little bit like learning to read the formal version of another language, and then trying to have a chat with a native speaker. Your words themselves may be correct, but there's going to be some cultural miscues, unintentionally offensive phrases and general bewilderment over colloquialisms. ("Bless your heart" is, um, a lot less nice than it sounds.)

This is why emoticons were invented --  to help people bridge the gap between cold, clinical type and warm, fuzzy emotions. (Think something will be taken the wrong way? No worries, put a smiley face after it to ensure the recipient knows it was a joke!) And as text messages became more popular but remained laborious to construct, and social media allowed fewer and fewer characters, and our attention spans got shorter,  people wanted an even quicker way to get the point across. Thus were born emojis. (I'm not going to get into those now, but let's just say that, as a former copy editor, they're not my most favorite thing in the world ... sorry, Katie!)

But I digress.

This divergence between what you are trying to convey and what your recipient actually comprehends is one of the single biggest sources of confusion in communicating online, and one of the hardest parts about my job. Minus a broad spectrum of emoticon and emoji offerings in your standard support desk software (that's a joke, I'm totally not advocating that), what's a client success manager -- or anyone who interacts primarily online -- to do?

It's all about finding your "digital voice." First you have to define what you want your voice to be, and then you have to learn how to express it.

When I'm working on our support desk, my digital voice is meant to be friendly, approachable, helpful and reassuring. I want people who talk to me to be comforted and feel like they're in competent hands, even when I may not have an instant solution. I want them to trust that I will either have the answer, or I will find it. (Please note here that it isn't always, unfortunately, the answer the client wants, so then there's a whole new dimension of letting people down gently and offering acceptable alternatives.)

This can be a lot harder than you anticipate. It takes a lot of practice, and not getting defensive when something that you think makes perfect sense turns out to be, in fact, entirely incomprehensible. (I work for a SaaS company. This part is really hard.) You have to learn how to adjust appropriately to your audience's demographics, and integrate feedback into future communications.

It also can require a bit of exaggeration. I often compare my support digital voice to wearing stage makeup. It might be over the top if we were talking in person, but you actually need the extra oomph to correctly reach across the distance. I'm not saying end every sentence with a smiley face (though used judiciously, those can work well), but rather be cognizant of things like how abrupt a really short sentence can sound, and pad in a few extra kind words to soften it up. 

You know how you respond to a friend or partner (or your mom...) asking for feedback on a somewhat iffy dish they've cooked? It's kind of like that.

You can also use formatting like bold and italics, of course, but since those don't always translate across platforms, I try to ensure the wording itself can stand alone.

Here are some variations of the relatively ambiguous "No!" in the first graphic: 


Or you could always go around the word "No" altogether, with something like, "I'd love to help you with this, but unfortunately we can't ______. However, we can offer _____."

Now obviously, these are mostly specific to my job, but they're a good place to start thinking about how you sound to others. In many situations, this is going to be important. You don't have to be on the support desk to want to communicate effectively with your clients, coworkers or even your friends.

A good rule of thumb for me is if you think something might sound rude, then it probably does. It's worth taking an extra moment or two to rephrase something at this step; it'll likely take even more time to fix a miscommunication later. And as my mother always says, good manners cost you nothing! 

How do you ensure your audience is getting the right message? Have you found your digital voice?

Client Success and the Bottom Line

"Can Exceptional Customer Service
Lead to Higher Conversions?"

That was the Tweet I stopped to read this morning. And while yes, I'm intensely interested in client success/service/support and all sorts of minutiae related to that topic, the Tweet caught my eye because of the "higher conversions" part.

Why? Well, because it directly related client success to revenue.

Sales reps and SDRs. ...   Okay, maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration here, but you get the point.  Photo | Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images 

Sales reps and SDRs. ... Okay, maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration here, but you get the point. Photo | Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images 

Let's be honest here. The rock stars in most tech companies, especially SaaS companies, are the sales reps and the SDRs. They're incredibly visible because they're setting up and knocking down big deals. It's easy to track back their efforts to a direct impact on the bottom line, and that makes them popular people. 

Client success, on the other hand ... well, you often only hear about us when things are going wrong. With a few exceptions here and there, most people don't go online to rave about the support agent who told them how to reset their password properly. But people hit social media to talk about things like ridiculously long phone calls to cancel their cable account. I love what I do and I know it makes a difference for our clients, but it's a bit quieter than other roles.

So when unbounce ran this article by Len Markidan, the head of marketing at Groove, that purported to link solid client success to conversion rates, I was in.

The article discusses the results and potential implications from Groove's 2013 SaaS Small Business Conversion Survey. When Groove, a helpdesk software company, asked 1,500 SaaS companies which channels they put the most focus on, they found that those who cited an emphasis on customer service also reported approximately 11% higher overall conversion rates on their websites.

Since I'm a research-loving kind of girl, my favorite part of this article is the next paragraph, from Len:

"An interesting data point, but is it enough to conclude that focusing on support equals higher conversions? Probably not on its own. Let’s look at some more data…"

(Is it weird that my enthusiastic reaction to this was, "YES, LET'S LOOK AT SOME MORE DATA!!" ... never mind, don't answer that.)

So what Len did next was look at data from Proposify, a proposal software company. CEO Kyle Racki had put a lot of time and effort into their customer service, part of which was reducing customer effort by scattering help widgets throughout their site. He tracked the results with KISSmetrics and found something surprising:

"Over a period of two months, the company’s overall average trial-to-paid conversion rate was 9.85%. However, users that clicked on one of Proposify’s help widgets converted at 25.23%!  That’s a 156% increase in conversions, simply from making customer support easily accessible."

Len goes on to say that the Groove team had had similar results, learning that trial users who reached out to support were nine times more likely to convert to paying users. And then Groove cleverly used this to create an alert system to reach out to users who were stuck on certain steps, which resulted in conversion rates of more than 350% higher than their average free trial users.

Pretty compelling data, wouldn't you say? Sure, it's a little on the anecdotal side, and it's certainly centered around SaaS companies, but I think that the basic concept is sound here. 

People want help. And when they get it (especially before they even realize they need it!) it reduces frustration and increases the inclination to commit.

I don't think this is especially surprising -- when was the last time you wanted to give your money to a service that annoyed, stymied and defeated you? I'm guessing never. But for excellent experiences (think about a restaurant you really like, for example), people will pay a little more, tip a little higher, and return to that company. All good client success does is take that concept from the brick-and-mortar side and apply it to the SaaS world.

So maybe client success isn't the loudest voice in the room. But it may be one of the most persuasive. And that, to me, sounds a lot like the bottom line.