To hold or not to hold on?

March 4, 2021 § Leave a comment

We live in times when it’s rare to phone a company and speak to a person – and if you finally get through to someone it’s because you’ve been prepared to hold for ages and ages.

So when we make a call and it seems hopeful that if we hold on we might, eventually, speak to a human we’re then faced with the dilemma: are there enough hours in our life to do that?

I called my bank yesterday about a new debit card they’d sent out. Got through straight away – to a message which told me that their teams were very busy helping customers with the most urgent queries or in ‘vulnerable situations’ and telling me I should only continue to hold if my query was urgent. I thought it was urgent but I wasn’t in a vulnerable situation so went for the option of leaving my number so they could call me back. To be fair, they did and within an hour at that so, all in all, not a bad experience.

A bit later I had to call my doctor’s surgery whose operators were also very busy. The answer message told me, over and over (in the most boring of voices), that the surgery was operating a full triage service and it might be quicker for me if I completed an online form. I didn’t want to see a doctor, didn’t need their triage service, so had to hang on until a ratty receptionist answered and gave me a minute of her precious time. Ok, they may have to put up with timewasters but I don’t think I was one of them.

Thames Water was also busy this morning (busier than normal, according to the message) and I had to press button one, then button two, then button one again, with a message all the while telling me that I would probably find the answer to my query on their website (which I had visited before having to call because I couldn’t find the answer.) Finally I was put on hold to actually speak to someone but soon hung up because the wait was being made worse by devil hold music!

In the past when people have moaned to me about their telephone experiences, one of the top criticisms has been the message which tells you where you are in the queue. I don’t mind that because I enjoy the progress of moving from number 10 to number eight and so on. (Agreed, getting from number two to number one always seems to be the longest wait.)

I’m very definite on where I am in the hold music debate: I can’t stand it and appreciate the holding systems which allow you to choose whether you want the music or not: silence for me every time.

Then, of course, there are companies which outsource their call centres to other countries. I don’t like this calling experience even though it means I’m speaking to a real person. I know this is a huge generalisation but often either I don’t understand all that they’re saying or they don’t understand exactly what I’m saying. It takes the shine off the ‘personal touch’ experience.

Is it that companies don’t value the telephone call anymore so they feel they can cut costs, slash their call handling team and continually direct customers and potential customers to their website.

It’s come to something when even cold calls take the form of automated messages – I get quite a few of those.

Get to the point if you want to be heard!

January 15, 2021 § Leave a comment

My husband’s broken back isn’t mending well and he needs to see the orthopaedic consultant again because months after the injury he sometimes can’t walk – at all.

That’s it: the story in a sentence.

Anything else I tell you is detail that you may not need or want to know. It will almost certainly detract from the ‘story’ which is the main issue here. We can get to extra information when I know I’ve got your attention.

The physio who referred him back to hospital clearly didn’t know that trick. He’s not a writer, true, but I would have thought he’d know how to prioritise cases. Face-to-face, he told my OH that it was important he got an appointment as soon as possible because seizing up wasn’t what the back injury should be doing now.

That’s what he SAID but what he WROTE was long and dreary with the most important point dangling at the end of the letter.

It’s a salutary lesson for anyone in any kind of business:

  1. Put the most important point first.
  2. Use language you’d use if you were talking to somebody.

That’s it! Get to the point if you want to be heard.

Why a copywriter doesn’t need a copyeditor

October 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

Take a break and come back to your work later

I tell people time and time again that the worst person to read and check copy for mistakes is the person who wrote it. It’s good advice and I’ll always stand by it.

However it does beg the question that if I’m writing copy – one of several services I offer – who checks it for me?

The quick answer is: nobody.

So do I employ the advice I’m happy to hand out? Honestly…no.

There are reasons for that though

Number One: I wrote this blog the day before I posted it! As random as that sounds, it plays a big part in getting words right. It’s an absolute fact that, as you write, you tend to read what you think you’ve written. However if you take a break and revisit the words an hour or a day later, you’ll spot errors you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Today I didn’t see mistakes in the blog but edited sentences that I realised were unnecessarily long.

Number Two: Writing is my job. It may sound obvious but, of course, it’s true. While you may have spent years training to be, for example, a counsellor, I spent years training to be a journalist and many more years honing my skills to edit other people’s work. The written word, grammar and punctuation is what I’m an expert on. Using the counsellor example again, I may be able to dish out advice but there’s no way I could ask for payment for it in the same way a trained counsellor could.

Number Three: I know (among other stuff!) to check little words. The likes of ‘in/it/is/if/on/has/had’ are some of the tiddlers that often get away. They’ll pass a spellcheck because they’re spelt correctly – it’s up to you to make sure they’re used correctly.

If you’re 18 and starting out you could have a go at Number Two. More helpful to more people will be Number One. Whatever stage of your career you’re at, Number Three is essential.

A personal touch in no-touch times!

April 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

Talk and write – you’ve got plenty of time

In difficult coronavirus times the personal ‘touch’ is more important then ever, although ‘touch’ is almost certainly not the right word. ‘Thought’ is probably better.

Technology is doing a fantastic job of keeping us in contact with family and friends – although not all of us. My elderly uncle is 85 (plonk in the at-risk group) and doesn’t own a computer, smartphone or tablet. He hasn’t a clue what wifi means. My aunt, his late wife, died five years ago and he hasn’t got used to living on his own, let alone given any thought to exploring technological opportunities.

Auntie Elsie was the glue in their marriage and used to invite us all round for the most fantastic roast or high-tea a couple of times a month. Uncle Ben slipped into the shadows after she died and we had to remember to call him – he never thought of phoning us.

The other day my brother and I were talking about buying him a tablet and getting wifi installed so that we could at least FaceTime him. But then we realised he’d need to be shown how it all works – there’s a lot to go through when you’re an absolute beginner – and we can’t visit and explain.

So – we’re continuing with phone calls and he’s happy with that. He likes to hear a friendly voice and, as it happens, we’re making more effort than we used to and are calling more often anyway.

But the whole Uncle Ben issue made me think about how we communicate these days.

Friends can whizz you a message by text, email, Facebook, Instagram and so on…in minutes. They don’t need to send birthday cards, postcards – or even Christmas cards to some extent- because a note on Facebook will do it for them.

I have no choice but to send Uncle Ben a proper birthday card because of the lack of wifi and it’s fun choosing a card that in some way touches on his life or personality.

Then there are letters. It used to be exciting to get a letter – sometimes challenging depending on the handwriting – but exciting all the same. The only letters I receive these days are from companies trying to sell me something and they’re typed, so in every way don’t count. Generally our first thought these days when we want to send a letter is to email it.

For as long as the post manages to keep going in these unsettled, unreal days I’ve decided to revert to letters and phone calls. (Ok – and blog! And Tweet sometimes…and text occasionally – but I am going to build letter-writing back into my life.)

Although I’ve grown up surrounded by electronic communication, I totally believe that the personal thought has to have a positive impact on these negative times.

The decline and fall of common phrases

February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment

A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking – on mobile phones – she got angry and she abruptly and angrily ended the call. But did she actually, literally, physically, slam down the phone on him? Probably not – unless she was also intent on wrecking her mobile.

So that’s one phrase in the English language whose days are numbered. There are others:

  1. Carbon copy. When I was a young journalist using a manual typewriter I used carbon paper to make a copy of the story I was writing. Carbon paper isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. However…we’re using ‘carbon copy’ often without knowing it. When we cc somebody on an email, we all know that we’re copying them in. We don’t all know (I didn’t) that cc stands for carbon copy.
  2. Winding down the window (of a car). We don’t do that anymore. In place of the winder-type apparatus that was fitted in old cars, we use a button and the window shoots down.
  3. Kodak moment. In the days of camera film, we were careful about capturing the moment we wanted to cherish on film – frankly because we had to pay for it to be developed and, in the first place, make the effort to go to the developer. So a Kodak moment, named after popular photographic film, was a special picture moment. These days billions of pictures are taken every minute on Smart Phones, special or not. We just snap away.
  4. Nothing to write home about – meaning it’s not big news. Back in the day, before mobile phones, people actually wrote letters to family when they had news – even sent postcards when they were on holiday! But if they didn’t have news or weren’t on holiday they had ‘nothing to write home about’.
  5. Put somebody through the wringer – to give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. Now machines do the hard work but we’ve carried on using the expression to suggest someone’s been drained of everything they’ve got! eg. the lawyer really put him through the wringer.
  6. Snapping a photograph. I just used the ‘snap a picture’ expression in Point 3 – where did we get that from? Simple – old cameras used to make a snapping sound when they took the shot.
  7. And, is a newspaper still a newspaper when it’s published online – no paper involved!

There must be many more phrases that don’t really make sense any more. Any thoughts? Answers on a postcard please – well, not literally. We don’t need to send postcards when we can whizz over a suggestion via the comments box.

My Top Ten writing howlers

November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.

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  1. You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
  2. Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. cant; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society  was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
  3. So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
  4. Capital letters.  We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
  5. Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
  6. Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
  7. Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
  8. Could of and could have.  This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
  9. Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
  10. Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.

Emirates wins unsubscribe turkey trophy

February 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Over the years I’ve come across many a company which makes it difficult to unsubscribe from their emails but Emirates, I think, takes the biscuit.

I’ve written a blog before about this because it takes us all so much time to unsubscribe. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s me being stupid but now I have Twitter to check if I’m  alone. When Living Social UK presented me with so many options I really didn’t know exactly how to unsubscribe, I took to the Twittersphere to see if I was the only one with the problem.

Please unsubscribe me from your database. I’ve tried to unsubscribe from your emails but don’t know if I have because you make it too difficult.

Some poor souls had tried six, seven, 10 times but were still receiving emails (before also taking to Twitter and begging to be removed from the database).

What I don’t understand is this: if you’ve decided you don’t want to receive an email from ‘blah’ company, them making it difficult for you to unsubscribe is only going to make you annoyed. You were mildly disinterested in the first place, now you’ve got real raging emotion. 

The Emirates course of action is to make you ‘work for it’. I didn’t remember I was a member of its ‘Skywards’ scheme (I can’t even be bothered to tell you what that is – but Emirates told me in detail – in the hope, I suppose, of stopping me from unsubscribing. Of course it didn’t.) I struggled on, trying to log into the site, since at some point I had been a member of the scheme – and then it wanted me to remember the password I had created at the time I signed up for a scheme I couldn’t remember. Noooooooooooo! This is too much.

In the end, guess what I did? You’ve got it….broke my New Year’s resolution and just deleted the email. I’ll tackle it properly next time but I have deadlines and I don’t have time to fight with their unwieldy unsubscribe system. They are, by no means, the only company who makes it hard to unsubscribe but they are the worst I’ve come across this year.

And how will companies like Emirates manage when the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force on 25 May this year. It’s the biggest change to data protection in more than 25 years.

The new General Data Protection Regulation does NOT allow the tacit or implied consent of their clients to be able to proceed with the processing of their personal data. 

I may have signed up for their Skywards scheme at some point in the past. I no longer have any interest in it and the company’s making it difficult for me to untangle myself from it.

The likes of Emirates will surely no longer be able to send us information we don’t want with unsubscription puzzles that beat all but the super-patient with a bit of time on their hands.

Storytelling sells the message

January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

 

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Queen Victoria and her beloved servant, Abdul Karim

History was my least favourite subject at school. It meant nothing to me – just a list of dates that seemed to have no relevance to my life. I was more a ‘books’ type of pupil where I could delve into a good story or use my imagination and make one up. So English – language and literature –  always appealed.

Only the other week I realised it didn’t have to have been like that. I discovered how I’d missed out on Britain’s richly fascinating history. Shortly after watching an intriguing programme about Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, I was captivated by a programme on Queen Victoria and her faithful, beloved Indian servant, Abdul Karim, who became known as the Munshi. It talked about how he’d taught her Urdu and the Queen had ignored all protests from her court objecting to her blatant fondness for the domestic help (foreign, at that!)

That tells you quite a lot about how we learn – how we’ve always learnt. Give us a list of facts and figures and many of us will find them easily forgettable.

Slot those facts and figures into a story and suddenly you’ve given them a life. Most of us will now remember.

Think about it like this: we tell each other stories, we pass on stories, we get excited about stories, we analyse stories, we SELL each other stories. We don’t do any of that about a column of facts.

And that’s exactly how good marketing works: what’s your company story? What’s the story behind that marketing campaign? Tell the story and your customers will learn about you and talk about you. Bark your specifications and they’ll quickly forget you.

Just getting something FREE, for example, is going to stick with them for a couple of blinks. They’re not actually going to learn anything about you – as decent as it is of you to offer the free offer – and frankly, they won’t remember your name tomorrow.

You’d almost certainly be better off selling your story to your customers and potential customers (for free).

Do you know your story? You’re living your story every day so it may be difficult for you to be objective and see it, to be fair. You probably need a Bowler Hat person to talk to you about why you are, what you are and when it all began and how?

It costs nothing to call to see if we can get to the bottom of who you are and why you should be writing about yourself! 01753 831604 is the landline and 07946 450708, the mobile – let’s have a chat.

 

Write it like you say it so everyone gets it

January 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

It amazes me how companies use a completely different language when it comes to their written marketing stuff which should be directly connecting with customers. They don’t write the way they talk and people have to work too hard to understand what the company’s offering.

If you see anything on my site that falls foul of what I’m about to say – please pull me up on it. I mean it. I don’t want to write anything I wouldn’t say.

A good example of the ‘different written language’ I’m talking about was nearly used the other day when a friend of mine wanted to complain about the shoddy service she was receiving from a company who was supposed to be supplying some wedding invitations for her. She started writing a flowery email to them and asked my advice, basically about the ‘big’ words she was using. There was nothing wrong with the email but I asked her what she’d say if she was talking to them about the problem. Let’s just say, we got to the point quicker by writing with words of one syllable and her message was all the more powerful for it.

There is a place for formal language – I suppose solicitors still have to use it but not many solicitors read my blog and they’ll ignore what I’m saying anyway. I’m talking to and about the people who are trying to get attention via their marketing and will struggle if they use fancy language.

I know when we’re writing we can be more thoughtful. I know when we’re talking we can often think afterwards ‘I wish I’d said that’. But if we use a mixture of those two elements in down-to-earth language we can get a good formula.

Crafting a direct message that gets to the point and dumps unnecessary frills that the customer doesn’t have time or energy – or will, frankly – to read is a skill. I think it should be a law of marketing.

I suppose a good test is to ask yourself: would ‘I’ read it?

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Twitter and Stephen Fry’s breakfast!

June 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

77c29fd557c9f62b121bebefb5d180f8.pngIt takes seconds to get yourself a reputation and decades to lose it and that’s exactly what has happened  to Twitter.

Back in the days when Twitter started tweeting (2006), there was an appetite among the Twitterati to post a bunch of stuff that nobody needed to know but lots of people lapped up.

There’d be stuff as trivial as what the rich and famous had for breakfast, for example and there were celebrities like Stephen Fry who just loved tweeting.

So by slapping those two bits of info together people have landed on the notion that Twitter is only about ‘rubbish like Stephen Fry’s breakfast’. It’s an excuse that’s pulled out time and time again by businesspeople who don’t get Twitter – although why Stephen Fry’s breakfast has been chosen as a scapegoat is a mystery.

His breakfast doesn’t feature in his top tweets or even his first tweets.   omelette-2200916_960_720.jpg

 It’s true he has said something about breakfast but, to be fair, he’s said something about a lot of things because he’s a prolific tweeter.

We’ve moved on miles since the first days of Twitter. Some of the early takers have ditched it – maybe to worry more about Instagram. Many other accounts have now joined Twitter not to talk about their breakfast but to talk about their business.

It’s easy to see why. Twitter is a cost-effective form of marketing particularly in an era when print advertising is relatively more expensive and far less interesting. But people who don’t get Twitter still use the ‘Stephen Fry breakfast’ argument as an excuse for not pounding the life out of their Twitter accounts.

Realistically, Twitter takes time to master. It’s a fast-moving beast so accounts have to tweet often and regularly to make their mark. Although there are tools to help everyone spread their message and reach a wide audience throughout the day, these need to be learnt as well. Using the right hashtags will mean tweets are seen in the right places by the right people – potential customers – at the right times. But all this takes the know-how to know how to build up an audience and keep them interested.

It makes more sense for many people to concentrate on the main business of running their business. One answer is to hand over the management of social media to a company whose business is social media and ‘words’. Bowler Hat knows plenty of companies who have decided to do just that, from DIY stores and hairdressers to accountants and webchat services.

Five tweets per day for the sum of £50 per week (that’s what Bowler Hat charges) adds up to good value for an ad campaign for business (and has nothing to do with Stephen Fry’s breakfast!)

 

 

 

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