Write Like a Good Listener

The way in which you communicate determines what kind of listener you are.

Think about people within your family, among your friends, and across the hall at work. You can get a pretty good sense of how well they listen just by how they interact with others.

People who talk a lot without pause tend not to listen too well. People who talk loudly are usually not good listeners. Same with those folks we all know who are always sure that they know best. These are some of the clues and markers we all recognize and use in our quest for people we want to get to know better. And bad listeners are usually not that high on our list of must-have friends.

In our family, social, and work lives, we’re pretty well tuned in to figuring out whether the people around us listen well or not.

The same is true online. Creators of Web sites may not see it too clearly. But users of sites, including yours, are quickly developing the online equivalent of those offline skills when it comes to figuring out whether you’re a good corporate listener or not.

If your site is loud and pushy, there’s a clue that you don’t want to listen too much. If the tone is arrogant and all-knowing, there’s another clue. If you hide your feedback button, if you fail to reply to inbound emails, and if you have no phone number on your site — these are all signs that you really aren’t that interested in listening to your site visitors. Hopefully, we can all agree that not listening is a bad thing. What’s the point in building your business within a uniquely interactive business environment if you have no interest in interacting?

As Marc Andreesen said in a recent Fast Company magazine interview, “You have to get real-world feedback, because every day that you’re not hearing from an actual paying customer is a day that the market is moving further away from you.”

Beyond the obvious clues about your willingness to listen online, like the absence of a feedback link, there are some much more subtle clues that visitors find within the tone and style of the text you write for your site and your emails. In the way that some people talk in a manner that excludes the listener, the same is true of writing. Here’s an example of online text that carries a strong subtext:

    Contact Us: Our Customer Service representatives will make every effort to respond to your email within 24 hours. However, if you haven’t already done so, please check our Help section http://www.sharperimage.com/us/en/cs_help.jhtml to see if your question is already addressed and answered.

This text, from The Sharper Image, says one thing, but the subtext says something quite different. In this case, the subtext is saying, “All things being equal, we’d really rather not hear from you at all because it costs us too much to interact with you one-on-one. So don’t be a weenie, just look up the answer in our FAQ section.”

Here’s an example that has a quite different tone. This one is from iQVC.com:

    Contact Us: You can check on your orders, returns, and QCard account status, as well as email us, 24-hours a day, right here in our Interactive Customer Service. If, however, you wish to call https://www.qvc.com/cshtml/csemlphone.html, or write https://www.qvc.com/cshtml/csemlwrite.html, please feel free to contact us whenever we can be of help. You can also chat live online with one of our Customer Service representatives. Simply click on the button below.

These guys really do want to hear from you and help you out. They really do want to listen. That’s evident not only from what they say, but also from the way in which they say it.

How you write speaks volumes about the sincerity of your message and about the kind of company you really are.

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