Leslie O’Flahavan – Principal and Owner of E-WRITE [Consistent Communication]
Leslie O’Flahavan discusses ways companies can deliver on consistent communication in an omnichannel world, and some tips to write automated texts that sound more human and less robotic.
Nick Glimsdahl 0:03
Hello and welcome to the press one for Nick podcast. I’m excited to introduce you to Leslie O’Flahavan. Leslie is the principal and owner of e-write. He write teaches people to write well for online readers. And they after practical hands on courses for corporations, nonprofits, and government clients. She’s also a LinkedIn learning instructor on writing in plain English, technical writing, serving customers through chat, text and social Leslie, welcome to the podcast.
Leslie O’Flahavan 0:45
Thank you so much, Nick, I’m so happy to be speaking with you today.
Nick Glimsdahl 0:49
Yeah, I am excited for today’s topic, the main topic we’ll be writing in customer service. However, before we get started, I noticed online that you were a freelance writer for The Smith, Smithsonian Institution.
Leslie O’Flahavan 1:05
I wasn’t like it was great. I did that on and off for several years. And oh, my goodness, did I get to see and do amazing things. One of my projects was I wrote a whole set of trading cards on the American presidents and those were sold in the gift shop at one time before the National Museum of the American Indian was even open. I was on a project and I got to go to the place where they store the Aztec gold, it was a vault, and I got to put on white cotton gloves and handle as tech gold items that were going to be on display because I was writing an educational product about those Aztec gold items. So that was a great gig. I
Nick Glimsdahl 1:52
Oh man, how much gold was there? Well,
Leslie O’Flahavan 1:57
the place where I went was in a curatorial like a restorative site where they were preparing the gold for display. So it was in a vault, you know, with a vault door like in a bank. And by the time we got into the room where the gold was stored, it was stored in trays with padding and with identifying numbers, and there was just tray after tray. But the only way to react to as tech gold is like with your jaw dropping your eyes bugging, it was amazing. And I was holding it. So that was so cool. And then I had to write about it.
Nick Glimsdahl 2:35
That is so awesome. I always try to find little nuggets of my guests. And every time I I saw the Smithsonian, I was like, man, I really got to ask about that. So holding gold is is up there. And one of the coolest things that a guest has done.
Leslie O’Flahavan 2:51
May I say that when I left? All the pieces were still there. I didn’t. There was nothing in my pockets. The metal detectors didn’t go off.
Nick Glimsdahl 3:00
So you didn’t do like a Mission Impossible. Were you you’re flying down from the middle of the ceiling?
No, I did. There’ll be a fail. impossible mission.
Awesome. So um, you know, what I want to get started on? How did you get started in customer service?
Leslie O’Flahavan 3:21
Well, I am a lifelong writing teacher that has been my life’s work in in I have been a writing teacher in many, many different settings, including high school and college. And in about the late 90s. I started in 1996. I started he right and most of the writing workshops and the writing training we offered at that time was for corporations, but not for their customer care, customer service teams. And right around as they say the turn of the century, I started to realize that some of the people granted rather low paid and low status workers, but some of the people whose work was going under a transformation in terms of writing with customer service agents, because they had been exclusively on the telephone and they were writing email and the switch from delivering customer service via telephone to email is a difficult one to make. And some customer service agents never make the switch. And I have a very power to the people rise up attitude about writing skills. And I think that people deserve their employers support to develop their writing skills. So the more I learned about frontline customer service agents from those one 800 numbers being put into email, the more I thought they deserved and needed help. And that’s when I started so my it’s 20 years. It’s about 20 years I’ve been delivering writing courses and support for people who communicate with customers via writing.
Nick Glimsdahl 4:58
Yeah, well congratulations. 20 years is, it means that you’ve made it into have succeeded. So congrats on that. So why is writing so important when it comes to customer service? Because obviously, you saw something that was there and you knew that you found a niche that somebody needed to capitalize on?
Leslie O’Flahavan 5:19
Well, writing is so important in customer service, because every channel we’ve added to the channels where we serve customers, with one exception, but every channel we’ve added in the last 20 years has been a written channel. Yeah, so you know, yes, of course, customer service teams always answered customers letters, but letters have a certain level of predictability, formality and delay. So once we started adding chat, written channels, without delay, they were just one after the other. So we started with facts. And then we went to email, and then we went to live chat, then went to social media, which we described with one term, but it’s not just one thing. And then we added SMS and it’s just, you know, if you have been a person serving customers, you have added channels, well, you know, one every six months, especially recently, adding automation, adding, you know, chatbot is a written channel, it’s a written channel. So the one exception is, of course, video. That’s not a written channel, but it draws on written information. So that’s why
Nick Glimsdahl 6:34
Yeah, no, that’s, I also agree, it is very important. You kind of mentioned multiple channels, and in a world of instant gratification, some of customers, and, you know, I may or may not know people who do this, but some customers who don’t receive the answer that they want in the channel of their choice in the first channel, they’re like, oh, okay, well, I’m going to jump over to the another channel and hoping for a different answer. And a lot of times they do get a different answer. So how can companies deliver on consistent communication in this Omni channel world?
Leslie O’Flahavan 7:09
That is an awesome question. I love those customers. They’re so wicked. I call them dad said no. So I’ll ask mom. Those kinds of customers.
Nick Glimsdahl 7:19
It sounds like a book right there.
Leslie O’Flahavan 7:20
Yeah. Right. It sounds like every Sunday in my house. Here. But the truth is that companies cause that problem, because there’s not equal power for agents who answer in different channels or equal cache, there’s, there’s a dullness and coolness factor that we have to handle. Email is in this day and age and you know, 2020 emails considered kind of adult channel, and social is considered kind of sparkly. So it’s, it’s frequently true that though, we’re handling more contacts and handling them more steadily, via email, social gets management’s attention, you know, at least the start of the conversation is often public. So there’s the risk of embarrassment. So if you’re a customer, and you get a doll, no answer in email, of course, you’re going to Swan on over to social where you feel like you may be able to threaten a little threatened a little embarrassment for the company. So you’ll get a yes answer. And you also know that probably the agents who responded social are going to respond more quickly. And while you may not be able to explain to me, you sense that the agents in social have a little bit more latitude, they’re given a little bit more decision making authority, because things are happening more quickly. And the risk of embarrassment is there. But if the company Allah, I was that that’s on the company, you know, what we need to do is make it as empowered and cool to work in email, or postal mail, as it is to work in social. And we want the agents to all be drawing from the same knowledge resource. Yeah. And often they aren’t. And many companies I work with, say, Oh, no, no, no, our email agents must use templates. But our social agents never should
Yeah, once you set up that split, you’re going to get different answers, because the email agents are going to the knowledge base with all its, you know, freshness and staleness. And the social agents are just answering.
Nick Glimsdahl 9:32
Yeah, so yeah, yeah. And to that it’s so important to not just have them all pull from that knowledge base, but to always look at the knowledge base and say, Is this what right for the customer is is right for what we’re trying to accomplish to achieve our business outcomes? But yeah, I completely agree you know, having that single voice or the single source of truth, which is that no knowledge base to pull from, go ahead and
Leslie O’Flahavan 9:57
say management needs to be These are sibling channels. You know, email is the brother and sister of chat and chat is the brother and sister of social and management needs to love all the children the same. So while you’re launching a channel, it’s it’s natural for it to get a lot of attention from management. It’s sparkly, it’s new. So hey, we’re about to launch live chat. But once launched, the channels all need to get the same training investment, the same positive attention from management, or or the answers will always vary in quality and accuracy.
Nick Glimsdahl 10:37
Yeah, no great point. So us as consumers, and I’ll throw myself in there, I’m never going to call into a contact center and say, Hey, Leslie, I just want to let you know, I’m having a great day. And I hope you do, too. We’ll talk to you tomorrow. Right? They call because they’re frustrated. They want to they want to drop some frustration with Yeah, usually they come over and listen to their rocky music to get all pumped up and say I’m going to destroy this person and find the my, you know, I’m going to get my get the get the man. And, you know, so how can you in that moment, empathize with your customers through, you know, email, or chat or social?
Leslie O’Flahavan 11:22
Well, sometimes you can empathize sincerely with the customer, you’re the customer service agent, and the customer, you know, chats in really angry and you they hate the app. They’re chatting in because they having a terrible time with the app. You’re the agent you like, our app?
I do I empathize with you, I empathize with you. And sometimes they’re chatting in and they’re furious, because you won’t make an exception to a policy that’s well known, well publicized. And you won’t, and, and literally, you’re the agent, you cannot empathize with that
But there’s the empathy that comes from the customer service agents sincerely and organically. And then there’s the empathy that’s performed, because the social interaction requires it. So you have to perform the empathy. Because there’s something in what the customer needs that you must acknowledge, you don’t have to agree with it. Empathy does not mean, I agree with what you want. It means I do understand that you want it. I do understand why you want it. Yeah. So if you I believe that some people are naturally empathetic, and that they can express empathy, without it costing them much to their sense of right and wrong. And I believe there’s lots of other people who are not naturally empathetic. And it does cost them something to empathize when they believe the customer is wrong. And the second group needs to just get over it and act empathetic. Fake is fine. Fake is better than nothing. And I believe it’s a teachable skill. And that once taught the rewards of being empathetic, whether it’s through and through to your core, sincere, or on your surface, the rewards show up and customers are more compliant. Yeah, they’re less quarrelsome, and they’re more compliant, if you express empathy, even if it’s surface empathy. Now, I don’t want people listening to this podcast go, Oh, my God, did she just make the case for being fake? I’m like, No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, we can act empathetic as a skill, because it’s required for customer courtesy. We can do this. Like we can say to our friends, or our colleagues back when we were in the office, you come in in the morning on Monday, and you say, how was your weekend? Sometimes you don’t care? Yeah.
And you still say,
how was your weekend? It’s a social construct. we behave this way. So to we can act with empathy?
Nick Glimsdahl 14:09
No, that’s a great point. One of the things that you mentioned in that answer was going to the customer and their customer saying your app sucks. And you’re saying, Yes, it does. Are you saying that that is okay to say that the company’s app internally is not a good app? Or, you know, do you not say that in the organization, and you’re just thinking, well, we
Leslie O’Flahavan 14:36
don’t want the app in the road and the bus going over it? That’s not good. Let’s say we know our app does suck. And then our app regularly kicks, like you’re logged in and it regularly kicks you out for some reason. This is how and then that is terrible. That does suck. So what we say is, I know the app is so glitchy, and the Does kick you out. So let’s say it’s an online banking app. So we say, if you’re doing a task that’s going to take you a while, like you’re applying for a loan or something, I really think that you should do it online. I mean, on your desktop, just don’t do it login at the site, don’t use the app for that. I know, it is so frustrating. And I want you to know that we are working on it. And I wish I could tell you when it would be fixed, but I hear you, it is so frustrating. Here’s the workaround. So I’m always thinking of like a teeter totter, when we have to admit that our app sucks, or, or we promised delivery of a product, and we missed the date by six days, that’s a very heavy weighing bad thing that happened. So we have to put as equal an equal amount of positive feeling into the interaction so that they balance out. That’s what we need to do. So excuse me, we’re going to have to say with empathy, I know you’re frustrated, I completely understand. I’ve heard it from you today. And I’ve heard it from other customers. So we’re going to have to keep you know, keep adding some emotional connection. So that the hassle and the our ability to create a connected feeling start to come into balance.
Nick Glimsdahl 16:23
Yeah, I really enjoyed that. The whole I hear you, I understand, I’ve felt that too. You’re not alone. When I hear that, as a consumer, I would feel almost as if as if you’re understanding how what I’m going through, and you’re diffusing that situation. So immediately, they’re kind of putting their guard down a little bit, saying, All right, now this is interesting, what are they going to do next? So I love the I love that thought process. And when you go through that, one of the things that you had mentioned, you know, going back to a question above was around having every buddy pull from the same knowledge base. But is does each customer service representative have different writing styles on different channels? Or are they all just going to pull from the knowledge base that they know? We should
Leslie O’Flahavan 17:18
have different writing styles in different channels? Yes, not wildly. But certainly, for example, you know, an email is composed in paragraphs, you know, they needn’t be very long, but it’s composed in paragraphs. The chat is not composed in paragraphs, unless you cue the customer. I’m about to give you a paragraph that shows three steps to updating the app. And chat is composed in brief, utterances, chat has crossed talk in it, it has nonlinear conversation doesn’t social Of course, Twitter, we have character limits. So so we’re, you know, we’re not bringing a paragraph. It just won’t fit.
Nick Glimsdahl 18:05
Or it’s just four or five or six tweets.
Leslie O’Flahavan 18:10
We get out of public Twitter paragraphs. So yes, we were a little bit more casual in social channels than we are elsewhere. But not maybe not more than chat. But yes, we do need some differences in our writing style. We do.
Nick Glimsdahl 18:25
So what should when it comes to writing style? What words should our customer service representatives avoid?
Leslie O’Flahavan 18:33
Well, I know you asked me that when we were pairing and all I can think of is four letter words. Yes.
You know, just I’ll go on record is saying don’t swear at your customers, right. But the reason I can’t and don’t want to give you an answer to that question is because I don’t think that way, about individual words. Sometimes I’ll be working with a company and they’ve been told, for example, we never say our product causes this health risk. So they have decided that for legal reasons, or government regulation reasons, the word cause the verb causes excluded. But in general, what I want to foster is good decision making. So for some companies say we never we do not allow our agents to ever use the phrase, no problem in chat, right? They say, of course, I don’t want you to write no problem. Nothing that customer asks for is a problem. But that I don’t like that is too rigid. So when you’re chatting with the customer, and the customer says I need to change the delivery address for my order, will that be a problem? Well, the agent, it should be natural to say no, of course not. That’s no problem, you know. So if we forbid No problem, then we’re putting a bit of falseness to the agent. What do I say instead? The customer does ask me Will there be a problem? And as you probably know, frontline customer service agents, you know, they’re kind of in a state of fear about quality monitoring a lot of times and if you tell them don’t write No problem, then all of their intellectual energy goes to excluding the phrase no problem. I don’t have much left over to figure out what else to say. Yeah, what we want them to be doing is figuring out what to say what to write all the time. Choose the words it’s your job. Choose the words. So outside of swear words,
no word bands here.
Nick Glimsdahl 20:39
Yeah, what if they just said no problemo.
Letter Oh, makes it much.
Yeah, yeah, I just found a solution for everybody. Everybody’s messages just out. So from, from your perspective, as a consumer, what is the best and worst experiences that you’ve had? Inside customer service? Well, I’m
Leslie O’Flahavan 21:06
a sucker for. I’m a sucker for agents who companies or agents who are tender, you know, especially if I’ve had a problem, you know, and I’ll call out USA, my auto insurance company, I creamed the quarter panel on my car I hit this is total ignorance. I hit a brick mailbox. And I just absolutely creamed it. And when I called, they were so nice to me that I was I just, I had like a little wetness in my eye that turns out, I was like, moved. And it made me actually think I would call them back again. And then I realized, no, Leslie, the only time you talk to them is when you’ve had a wreck, you don’t want to talk to them again, you know. And then the opposite is are companies that flat line With their help, where they get the point where they say, I don’t know, I don’t know what we’re going to do to solve this. Because then my, I’m already frustrated, then my rage o meter goes up into the red zone. And I feel unseen. Like they literally cannot embody my question, they, they’re not accepting that a person is asking this, and it makes me nutty. So a company that did that to me, I don’t I don’t, you know, that’s not a good business practice to call them out, I’ll just leave it that it was software related. And I’m no longer a customer.
Nick Glimsdahl 22:41
And I think that is what is most important is regardless of who it is, the way that they treated you in the way that they made you feel you have no longer decided to give them business. So it’s, it’s so important to look at and kind of gut check yourself as a as an organization as a company and saying, how are we treating our customers? And how are we making them feel? If somebody says, I don’t know, immediately you go to worst case scenario, you’re not going to say, Okay, well, they’re still going to fix my problem. It’s going to say, Okay, now what Now, now, the worst thing is going to be possible. And now I’m frustrated, and I’m going to provide them, I’m going to tell everybody on social, I’m going to tell all of my friends that I’m going to write them a bad review somewhere. And maybe that’s not everybody. But yeah, just from as a as a customer, as a consumer, as a company. Be careful on what you’re saying to your, to your customers. So the next question I have for you is, as companies are trying to find efficiencies to do more with less, right, they’re, they’re trying to push in automation and kind of have this checkbox because that’s what they’re measured on is not necessarily making it a great experience. It’s to push an automation and have that be in before the end of the year. And some companies are doing it right. And creating great experiences while other companies are making automation seem very robotic. Here’s what I can do for you. Here’s how I can help. Right? It’s not it’s very rigid. So when it comes to writing, what are some tips to write automated techs that seem more like it’s a human and less robotic?
Leslie O’Flahavan 24:27
Well, it’s a it’s a quandary, isn’t it? Because it is robot is a robot, you know, so. So when we make it seem more human, lots of companies make it make the, the bot, let’s say just the bot, sound more cookie wacky. You know, it’s kind of it’s not full playful, but it’s quite playful. It’s kind of irreverent. And they feel that you know, if the bot you know, is more playful, then then it will offer Set the fact that it’s not a human person. And If the button is connected to a wonderful, clean, useful knowledge source, then I think that playfulness can be attractive. Yeah, that playful tone, that irreverent tone, if not, is super annoying, just super annoying. So I think with any automation, the first interactions that the automated written voice has with the human customer, these are important, somewhat important, but what’s most important is the quality of the stored knowledge that that automated voice is drawing from. Yeah, so if you have a bot, and I’m allowed to message you on Facebook with a question, and then offers me an answer, I want that one that to be a high quality answer, it doesn’t really matter, the tone, or the humaneness, or the robot Miss, if you’re just offering me stale, FAQ content, I don’t really care, it’s a bad experience. So I want to, you know, plant the flag for a good knowledge management behind the bot, and then we can make some quick and easy decisions about how human or non-human the bot sounds.
Nick Glimsdahl 26:28
Yeah, no, I think that’s a great point. The one question I do have for you is, you know, from you know, it, let’s say that I am an insurance company, or I am a health care organization, and you throw a bot on there, you probably don’t want it to be as playful, as if you were from Gerber or you are from Lego. So be careful on who your audiences and how you interact with them in maybe understanding their personas.
Leslie O’Flahavan 26:58
Well, the bot should use something that’s in a voice or a tone that’s in line with the brand voice. And this is this is the company’s brand voice. And this is one of the campaigns I’ve had throughout my career is the company’s brand voice is usually defined and described by the marketing department. And the documents that that explain the company’s brand voice are usually created by the marketing department, because they’re the ones who hire ad agencies to create marketing content, and they need to be able to tell this outside provider. This is how we sound. This is what we write this is how we sound. Well, those brand voice documents need to be in the contact center to and that’s something that would come up around creating an automated interaction as well. Is the bot should that’s the example I’m using the bot should use the brand’s voice. And so who’s creating the bot? Sometimes it is a beautiful partnership between customer care and other departments, you know, and that and the document that guides how the bot sounds should be that brand voice document.
Nick Glimsdahl 28:14
Yep, very clear. I appreciate the clarification on that. Um, so I wrap up every podcast with two questions. And the first question is, what book or person has influenced you the most in the past year? And the second question is, if you can leave a note to all the customer service and all the customer experience professionals, what would it say? Okay,
Leslie O’Flahavan 28:36
I’m glad I love these questions. If it’s about a book, I’m going to love the question. So I’m going to stretch the timeframe. Just a bit you asked about this past year. And this has been a little longer than the past year. I loved Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, his memoir, it is not written within the last year I think the publication date was five years ago, the books called My beloved world, and I love it and it has stuck with me. And I have a whole set of Sonia Sotomayor quotes, but this is the one I’d like to share with you today because I just love this so much. Her quote is don’t mistake politeness for lack of strength. I love this as a woman as a woman business owner as a woman, business owner learning from a woman Supreme Court justice. I love it. But I think this is a really resonant statement for frontline customer service workers. Don’t mistake politeness for lack of strength. There are different strengths sometimes in customer service work involves telling customers No, we can’t. We won’t. And politeness is not in conflict with strength. I just love that quote.
Nick Glimsdahl 29:53
That’s great. So um, Leslie, what was the best way for people to get a hold of you?
Leslie O’Flahavan 29:59
Oh, got one more to go.
Oh, yeah. All right.
Tell frontlight what do I want to tell you customer service workers? Sorry,
Nick Glimsdahl 30:06
I jumped the gun.
Leslie O’Flahavan 30:07
Yes, you did. You did put that put that holster that gunner? Yeah, yeah, um, what I want to tell them is you matter more than you know, you matter way more than you know. And in these times when people’s stress and fear are higher, you matter way more than you even know. Because everyone who talks to you is wondering how difficult or easy the interaction can be. And they’re inherently hoping the interaction will be easy, and it will be kind. And therefore, even in a small, short interaction, a chat that lasts 52 seconds, you matter more than you know.
Nick Glimsdahl 30:55
Now, that’s, um, that’s a deep, deep statement. And I love that because a lot of times people in customer service, even in customer experience are not appreciated there. They’re not taking that time to say those exact that quote right there. You matter more than you know. And so I appreciate you, you bring in that to the customer service and customer experience professionals. So again, what is the best way for people to get ahold of you, maybe learning more about your LinkedIn learning courses, and maybe some of the stuff that you do with email?
Leslie O’Flahavan 31:33
Well, I would be glad to be in touch with anyone and I do take that phone call. So if you call me that would be fine. My Twitter handle is Leslie Oh, so you can always follow me there. I do not share pictures of my breakfast. It’s twitter feed with focusing on writing well, please connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m glad to engage with you. They’re happy to and eager to, or you can go to my website, which is e right online.com. And connect with me there either way.
Nick Glimsdahl 32:09
Yep. And then with the LinkedIn, Lauren learning courses, maybe they can connect with you on LinkedIn, you got a couple courses that that are available. You want to talk about that for a minute,
Leslie O’Flahavan 32:19
I’d be glad to. I’m the instructor for six LinkedIn learning courses. And in this year, when so many people are out of work, LinkedIn learning partnered with Microsoft and has made many, many courses free, it will be free through March 2021 of my courses are listed amongst the free ones, there’s hundreds of free ones, two of them are mine. One is called writing in plain language. And the other is writing customer service writing through chat and text. And if you want me to show you where those free LinkedIn learning courses are, that would be fine. Just connect with me in any of the ways you’ve met. I’ve mentioned you can message me on LinkedIn. And I will share the link so you can find that the free training that I’m offering and that many other people in our customer experience community are offering including Jeff hoister, Myra golden, there’s a lot of wonderful free training.
Nick Glimsdahl 33:17
That is that is great. I highly recommend everybody connect with Leslie on LinkedIn and take advantage of those two free courses that she is offering. And she will help guide you through where those are located because it can be tricky at some time. So Leslie, thank you so much for joining me as a guest and I look forward to continue to learning from you on LinkedIn and everywhere else.
Leslie O’Flahavan 33:41
Thank you so much, Nick, for your conversation and for your courtesy and curiosity. I really do appreciate it.
The Press 1 For Nick podcast is both educational and engaging, and each episode offers listeners a dynamic blend of insightful stories, best practices, and invaluable lessons.
Nick’s guests – each with a unique wealth of knowledge – include leaders from a variety of backgrounds and industries. Some of his guests include:
- Customer service & customer experience leaders
- A hostage negotiator
- Award-winning authors
- Home Depot’s Senior Director of Customer Care
- Former VP of Disney’s Magic Kingdom
- Lyft’s Head of Partner and Customer Engagement
- Deputy Chief Veteran Experience Officer from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
On every episode Nick asks his guest two questions:
- What book or person has influenced you the most in the past year?
- If you could leave a note to all the Customer Service and CX professionals, what would it say?
You can find all the podcast guests’ answers under their episodes below.
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