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Post archive for June, 2010
June 25, 2010
Four reasons for using relevant e-mails and writing exercises when helping customer service agents improve their writing skills
- NOTE: In this post, I am making the case for authentic writing training for customer service agents. But I believe these four reasons apply to writing training for all types of employees.
If you want your customer service agents to write high quality e-mail to customers, and you’re planning to invest time and money in writing skills training for your agents, be sure the training materials are relevant to the work they do and the training provider understands the writing demands of the agents’ job.
Reason 1: Relevant training materials and exercises enable agents to transfer skills from training to the job.
It’s not enough to have agents improve their writing skills in the confines of the training room. For the training to be worthwhile, agents must be able to apply the writing skills learned during the training to the job. Thus, the more similar the training materials are to the actual writing agents do, the better the transfer will be. For example, agents should practice grammar and punctuation skills by editing e-mail samples not project proposals or monthly reports.
Reason 2: Customer service agents’ work requires a specific set of writing skills, ones which are not interchangeable with skills required of other employees.
Each job requires its own kind of writing. Auditors need to summarize findings, marketers need to persuade readers to buy, and human resources professionals need to explain benefits packages to employees. Customer service agents need a specific set of writing skills, too. They must be able to anticipate and answer customers’ questions, use a tone that builds rapport between the customer and company, and integrate canned answers into free-form text. A worthwhile, authentic training program will help agents develop the writing skills they will actually use, not just the “generic” writing skills any employee might need.
Reason 3: Relevant writing training reduces agents’ resistance.
Some agents may be resistant to training that helps them improve basic writing skills such as grammar and punctuation. They may feel that their employer lacks trust in them or that the training is unnecessary. They may even be somewhat embarrassed that their writing skills need refreshing or worried that they’ll be dismissed from their job because their writing skills are poor. Providing training that’s relevant to their job, training that uses work-related e-mail examples rather than generic business writing examples or Composition 101 examples, can reduce their resistance. When they see that the writing skills they’ll learn during the training are directly related to the work they do every day, they become more open to learning.
Reason 4: Relevant training materials become a useful reference tool after the training is complete.
The training materials—notebook, handouts, exercises, etc.—will guide agents’ learning during the actual training, and, if they are relevant, these materials can be useful after the training. For example, many writing guides will contain a list of frequently misused or misspelled words. Such a list can be useful to agents one month after the training, or even six months after the training, if it is a list of work-related words.
What are your thoughts on the topic of authentic writing training? What kinds of learning experiences make writing training real for the work you do? Post here or e-mail me with your thoughts.
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
June 16, 2010
I've spent the last two days attending (and speaking at) the ACCE Call Center Management Conference. I have heard lots of insightful presentations about providing excellent customer service and I've met some really intelligent and interesting people. It's been a great event.
And I have heard some buzzwords! Some buzzwords that are new to me and that strain the English language to the breaking point. We're not talking about the tame paradigm shift or the old school think outside the box. No, we are talking about some killer buzzwords, ones that leave actual meaning in the ditch beside the road.
Here's a short list of new items for my buzzword collection:
- baked in, as in "That analytics feature is baked into our system."
- scale, as in "This project model is not going to scale."
- federate, as in "Our group needed to federate the task."
- decisioning, as in "We used real time decisioning to spur proactive events."
- career pathing, as in "We have a low rate of staff turnover because we offer career pathing."
- space, as in "We intend to be leaders in the pharmaceutical space."
- incent, as in "We incent our sales team for bringing in repeat business."
My all-time favorite buzzword:
- attrit, as in "Generally, we don't want to lay people off. We'd rather attrit them."
Do you love buzzwords? When you attend a meeting or a conference, do you enjoy a robust round of Business Buzzword Bingo? If so, let's keep the list going. Send me your favorite buzzwords or post a comment here.
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
June 9, 2010
That's what a participant said during a web writing course I taught recently for the Federal Library and Information Network at the Library of Congress.
"We Don't Need No Stinkin' FAQs"
I've heard this opinion before. Lots of people object to websites that segregate answers to users' questions in a long sprawling FAQs section. Instead, they believe the content should anticipate and answer users' questions, page by page. I understand this point of view, especially when I come across pages like the Baby's First Circus page at the Ringling Bros. site.
The Baby's First Circus page is a thin 200 words. It describes the Baby's First Circus program, which provides a free circus ticket and a certificate for children up to 12 months old. But to get any detail about the program, such as links to the sign-up pages, the program rules, and the mailing address to send birth certificates if you want to enroll your triplets (!!!), you have to go to the separate Baby Program FAQs page.
This method of organizing the content suits no one. The Baby's First Circus page is too short and insubstantial, and the FAQs page has its own problems:
- the questions are numbered, which implies a sequence that doesn't exist
- it includes information for two distinct groups: parents who haven't registered yet and those who have already registered. By dumping this information into one FAQs section, Ringling Bros. forces each type of user to wade through the info intended for the other type.
The Enduring Appeal of FAQs
Don't get me wrong. I 'm not against FAQs in general. FAQs are one of the most compelling ways to present information online. Because users see their very own questions, written in their very own words, users really like and rely on FAQs. Think about it: FAQs are so popular that they are the only type of web content we refer to by initials. We don't call the About Us page the AU or the Products and Services page the P &S, do we?
Users turn to a website's FAQs section because they want to know:
- What questions should I have?
- Can I find a short cut or a short version here?
- Can I get a simple yes or no?
- Can I find my info more easily here than in the “real” content pages?
- Can I find my questions phrased in my wording, using terminology I will understand?
So, when FAQs are done right, they are a great asset. But FAQs should not become a dumping ground for content that should be integrated into the site's architecture and supported by navigation.
What do you think? How have you handled the FAQs-vs.-content-pages issue at your site? Do you agree with this statement: "If your web content is good, you don't need FAQs"? Post your thoughts here or let me know.
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
June 3, 2010
The Associated Press announced yesterday that it has added a separate Social Media Guidelines section to its 2010 AP Stylebook. The new section includes information on correct use of such terms as "... app, blogs, click-throughs, friend and unfriend, metadata, RSS, search engine optimization, smart phone, trending, widget and wiki."
The new Guidelines offer a profound change. For the first time, the Stylebook has decreed that website is one word. But they're keeping e-mail old school: as far as AP is concerned, the hyphen stays.
On another note, while the AP Stylebook folks have given their guidance on writing the phrase search engine optimization, they sure have fallen flat on optimizing their press release page for search engines. Their browser window title is pr_060210a.html. Now, when was the last time someone Googled that sequence of numbers and letters?
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
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