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.

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.

Don’t let your mate proofread for you!

July 9, 2019 § Leave a comment

This is the true story of a guy who thought he could save a bit of money having his friend proofread a marketing newsletter for him – and is now counting the cost.

The guy’s an accountant who works on his own and wanted someone other than himself to look at the copy before he sent it out. (I agree it’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at your copy because the author tends to read what they think they’ve written and not what’s actually there.)

images.jpeg

One of his mates (who really liked English at school….) offered to do a thorough job for him and the problems started as soon as the accountant shared the copy. The duo had ‘creative differences’ – also known as an argument  – about the way the copy should be written.

The end of the story is that I did the job – proofreading only -because Rob was adamant that his words (unless they were a complete pile of nonsense) stayed the same.

He explained the friend story to illustrate how important it was to him to have the spelling/typos/grammar checked but not to receive chunks of rewritten text because he was confident about that side of the newsletter.

He also hinted – and I have no problem with it – that because he was paying me for the service he expected the work delivered to his deadline and redone if he wasn’t happy with it. If your mate’s helping you out, how good to you feel taking him to task if he takes a week when he promised to take a day?

So by commissioning a professional proofreader he didn’t damage a friendship. He’s still wrestling with an explanation for not accepting the many changes to the copy that his friend suggested. He feels he’s nearly out of a pickle – but not quite.

 

 

The secret language of the written word

April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

Unknown-5.jpeg

When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.

When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.

The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.

Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.

It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.

In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.

Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.

The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to julie@bowlerhatmedia.co.uk.

7 essentials for successful copy

January 10, 2019 § Leave a comment

31959494_1540564399386190_3620031116922060800_nWhen you write copy to advertise your business people will judge you on the quality of your writing. That includes your posts on social media.

You might not think that’s fair because whereas you’re top of your trade – as a tourist bureau, for example – you’ve never got to grips with spelling, grammar and proofreading. Writing isn’t even part of your job – so why would potential customers care about typos? Actually you know the answer – because you do it yourself. If you read company literature that’s sloppy, you’ve immediately got a picture of said company as ‘cheap’ and a business that doesn’t pay attention to detail. If they’ve got their own communication wrong, what else are they going to get wrong? Sometimes the company becomes a laughing stock (see picture above).

Here are 7 steps that cover the basics:

  1. Read what you’ve written – not what you THINK you’ve written. A fresh pair of eyes on the job is ideal. If you’re working alone, go make a cup of coffee and come back to the copy later after a little break. You’re much more likely to spot errors then as opposed to a long hard stare at the same words in one sitting.
  2. Illustrate it – which I agree isn’t copy, as such, but is an essential ingredient for making your post/poster/blog look enticing. Uninterrupted blocks of text are off-putting. If you don’t have a photo to accompany the text,  companies such a Pixabay almost certainly do. Pixabay has a library of free images.
  3. Your headline is critical. Would it attract your attention? Perhaps you’re too close to the copy to know. Again, fresh eyes and an honest second opinion are useful. As a rule of thumb, don’t use your company name in the headline – it classifies the writing as definite advertising and reduces interest.
  4. Don’t talk posh. If you wouldn’t say it like that, don’t write it like that. Conversational rather than ‘stiff’ copy makes it easy on the reader, giving the copy a better chance of being read. I don’t mean slang!
  5. Don’t overlook numbers and little words like ‘to’ or ‘it’ . A department store local to me produced a promotional leaflet and got its telephone number wrong. It corrected its mistake by gluing white paper with the correct number over the error, thereby devaluing all the work it had put into the leaflet. I’ve also seen company literature where complicated words have been spelt beautifully but tiddly words have been allowed to morph into mistakes. Madly, headlines are often overlooked too.
  6. When it comes to blogs, make sure you categorise and tag accurately. Categories outline the subject you are writing about. Tags are more specific and pinpoint the topics within the subject. I like this explanation: a recipe for brownies on a food blog might have the categories ‘dessert’ and ‘baking’ and the tags would be something like ‘chocolate’ ‘brownies’ and ‘walnuts’. Every second around 17 posts are published on WordPress sites globally and you have to give yourself the best chance of being found.
  7. Lists are a great format to attract readers to a blog, either bulleted – or numbered like this one.

 

 

 

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.

Unknown-1.jpeg

  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.

New data act didn’t do much, did it!

November 15, 2018 § Leave a comment

070611-F-8132H-001.JPG

There was a lot of fuss about GDPR (the new data act) and it was brought into being for all the right reasons. Data about you and me was too easily found and shared, partly because our details are available on the internet and partly because companies ‘assumed’ the right to share information. The latter resulted in the suicide of the 92-year-old poppy seller who received 3,000 requests in a year for donations from charities to the point where she felt too overwhelmed and distressed.

The new data act – the biggest change to the control of information for 25 years – is governed by rules to ensure individuals aren’t swamped by calls they haven’t asked for or agreed to.

What’s happened since GDPR was introduced? 

The very important thing that hasn’t happened is that our lives haven’t suddenly been relieved of those faceless, nameless, numberless calls from companies talking to us about the car accident that we haven’t been involved in!

images.png

I was in an antique shop the other day when a dealer was asking another if he was still getting those calls because she’d just had one. I jumped into the conversation to tell her that I still get them.

I got an email yesterday from ‘Retired Millionaire’ who’s ‘super excited’ to introduce me to a crazy cash-making scheme.

Today somebody emailed me to say I’ve been ‘chosen’ to receive £1,500 – but I need to give them a bank of information before I get it, of course…

And this blog post/rant was provoked because I just received a call from someone telling me that they’ve received reports showing that my computer has been giving off dodgy readings – but they can fix it for me thankfully….

So GDPR hasn’t got the chancers

I’m amazed that contact like those I’ve described still goes on (or even did in the first place) but I suppose they’ll eventually hit upon someone who has been in a car accident and will take part in the conversation. Or they’ll phone someone who’ll believe that their computer efficiency can be improved by the person who has phoned them out of the blue. That must be the case otherwise these calls wouldn’t exist.

But sadly, while GDPR has been no deterrent to the chancers, it’s scared some charities silly and one I work with refuses to contact members who haven’t completed a ‘Yes, contact me’ form properly. Charities face fines of up to 4 per cent of their turnover or €20m (£18m), whichever is larger.

What’s it done for me?

I’m annoyed beyond reason when I get a chancer on the other end of the phone and I still get them – so I believe the GDPR hasn’t done much for me at all.

I’m sure GDPR has made legitimate companies more careful in their communication but it’s ‘other’ companies that are the bugbears of most people’s lives and it’s the ‘other’ companies that simply don’t care.

Storytelling sells the message

January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

 

1501499920477

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?

images-1

 

How do you sign off your emails?

February 22, 2017 § 1 Comment

images-2.jpeg

I’ve said it before but I’m saying it again because I still don’t know the answer: Do you have a standard sign-off for emails or do you vary it for each recipient?

I would guess that most of us throw out the rules if we’re emailing friends or clients we know well but what’s a good standard sign-off for anybody who falls into a more formal group. I don’t really have a ‘standard sign-off’ and am always finding reason to tailor it.

What I mean by that is that I’ll write the email in a way that Many thanks makes sense as a finishing phrase or Speak soon because both of those seem friendlier than many of the alternatives. I’ll take you through them as I see them:

Very best wishes – It sounds a bit over-sincere, I’ve decided;

Best wishes – alright but a bit stiff;

Best – manly (I can’t really explain why I’m giving it a gender but I said this was how I saw it);

All the best – old-fashioned and somehow too ‘old’ to be coming from someone of my age;

Kind regards – I’m not sure it’s ‘me’;

Warm regards – twee;

Regards – to the point. I feel fine when I receive a ‘Regards’  but signing off with one doesn’t come naturally;

Sincerely – not right for an email, not right for anything anymore – too formal;

Yours – same problem as ‘Sincerely’;

Sincerely yours  twice the problem of ‘Sincerely’ and ‘Yours’;

Take care – I like this, both for friends and for clients I know well. It’s not too personal but it’s friendly;

Love – I write that on birthday cards (because I love the person I’m sending them to. The same can’t be said for all email recipients so it’s not right.)

Name only – sometimes I sign off with just my name, particularly if we’re having an ’email conversation’ when wishes of any kind start to make the messages look clumsy. Otherwise it looks lazy unless you know the recipient well;

Initial only – rude;

Cheers – we’re doing business not buying a round;

Smiley – no;

See you soon – you probably won’t so as a generic sign-off it’s inappropriate;

Thanks for getting in touch – I like that;

Thanks so much for getting in touch – too needy;

Many thanks – a favourite but you’ve got to have something to thank the recipient for otherwise it doesn’t make sense. That’s why this blog started out with me saying I rewrite emails in order to be able to use this sign-off;

Speak soon – I also like this. If you’re emailing a client you know well you probably will speak soon. If you don’t know the client well yet, the sign-off reinforces the fact that you’re opening channels of communication.

So having run through many of the usual suspects I still haven’t found a generic sign-off I feel comfortable with. Something you might say at the end of a meeting goes towards deciding your ideal sign-off but it’s not a standalone decider because often you haven’t met the person at the receiving end of the email so the relationship is different.

Which means that even after giving the issue much thought I haven’t got anywhere with it. There will be some who will say I’m over-thinking the issue. I don’t agree. Every piece of communication goes towards your professional reputation and the way you close an email could be seen as smooth or awkward and that matters very much indeed.

Any thoughts??

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with communication at .