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More you, less we: the power of empathetic writing.

By Chris Lawes, writer at Schwa

Picture this: you’re a bank that wants people to sit up and notice you. It’s never been easier to switch accounts, while it’s not so easy to offer anything radically distinctive.

You decide to boost your customer service – something that can really make you stand out from the crowd.

So what are customers looking for?

Efficiency? Accessibility? 5G?!

Hands up if you went with something a little bit more human: empathy.

That might seem wildly old-fashioned, when everyone’s focus seems to be on the latest whizz-bang technology. But hold on to your apps and bots and memes –  according to our research, empathy is the next big thing.

We analysed online comms from eight banks in Which’s 2020 best banks for customer satisfaction list – half from the top, and the other half from the bottom. Guess what? The banks that were best at keeping customers happy were also streets ahead when it came to communicating with empathy.

More empathy, less apathy 

When times are tough, your customers really notice how empathetic you are.

Imagine: you’ve suddenly lost your job. You feel like the walls are closing in. You’ve panicking about how to pay the bills or keep a roof over your head. And you’re trying to speak to your bank about getting financial help to tide you over.

Or: a close family member has just died. You’re in shock, but still need to talk to a bank to get all their financial affairs in order. But an advisor is going to ask you for some passwords first – passwords you don’t know.

In these situations (both of which have sadly been pretty common over the last couple of years) you can see how a lack of empathy would really ramp up your stress.

Write words, in the right place

At Schwa, we reckon the language you use has a real impact (but then, as a bunch of

writers and behavioural scientists, we would say that.)

That’s held up by the report: banks who were most empathetic in their writing were also the ones with the happiest customers. The beauty of this is that you don’t need to tear up your existing policies – giving your comms the attention they deserve will make a huge difference by itself.

So here are five categories that we looked at– five categories you can use to make a change:

Clear structure

Never underestimate the impact of quickly and easily finding what you’re looking for.

Break up long paragraphs into shorter ones, and throw in some subheadings for good measure. Add drop-down menus or step-by-step guides to help users through your site. Last but not least – don’t put the most important thing last! If you know what’s likely to be important to your reader, lead with that.

Focus on ‘you’ more than ‘we’

It’s only natural to want to appear sympathetic when you’re writing to someone going through tough times. But, somewhat counterintuitively, this can actually make things worse. It can make messages longer – a lot longer.

Readers want to get to what’s important to them, rather than wading through how much their bank appreciates what they’re going through. Keep things friendly but brief – focusing on ‘you’ more than ‘we’.

No obvious cut-and-paste

You can have the best writing in the world, but there’s no better way to ruin it than by copy and pasting it everywhere. Most of us can spot templates a mile off, especially on social media: how many times have you read “hi [user name], thanks for getting in touch about [issue] – can you DM us so we can look into it?”

It hardly feels heartfelt. The message is very clear: we don’t care enough about you to give an individual response. So if you are going to use templates, proceed with caution: use them sparingly, and with enough wiggle room for people to add personality.

Simple process

With the possible exception of the pooches at Crufts, no one appreciates jumping through hoops. So now is the time to look at all the steps a reader has to navigate. Do you absolutely need all of them? And if you do, could they be simpler and easier to use and understand?

High readability

In other (shorter, simpler) words: can you quickly skim through sentences? Or are you getting bogged down in endless blocks of unbroken text?

Chop up long sentences and dense paragraphs, and use the active voice more than the passive. Of course, as with all of these points, what you’re writing about matters as well– but shorter and simpler is always better in our book (or website).

Most people are naturally empathetic. It’s processes and procedures that get in the way – but these principles should help plug the empathy gap. That way, you can put the emphasis back on what actually matters: the customers themselves.

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