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What goes around comes around as they say. Writing, so long the poor relation in customer communication, is back in favour.

Over the past twenty years the pendulum has swung away from the written to the spoken word, and all the way back again. Ubiquitous emails, dynamic Live Chat, and frenetic texting have transformed corporate communication. Opposable thumbs could soon find themselves in the Olympics and Text Speak could become part of the school curriculum.

Back in the day, we learned grammar in school. Parts of speech, clause analysis, identifying grammatical errors were easy peasy for us. But all that changed when Creative Writing galloped onto the scene. Several generations have missed out on grammar, unless they did French, or German.

That’s why it’s difficult to explain why, ‘With reference to your email of 16 September 2017.’ isn’t correct. Where do you start? With the components of a sentence? With the need for a verb? A finite verb?

Trying to eliminate poor writing in companies is a Herculean task on much the same scale as cleaning the Augean Stables.

It’s like trying to teach a mechanic to service a car without labelling parts of the engine.

Apart from the technical accuracy of the text, something journalists call ‘Clean Copy’ – don’t you just love the phrase? – there’s the content to consider.

Those of us who write, love to quote the American journalist and author, Gene Fowler, who famously said, ‘Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.’

Writing is hard work. So even if you have a Hemingway, Twain or Blake on your Customer Communication Team, you can be sure they won’t be happy with the first version of anything they write. These stellar authors produced dazzling prose that was edited, polished and re-worked to within an inch of its life.

And that’s what a lot of people writing to customers don’t realise. The perfect message is not going to be your first attempt, nor necessarily your second. The perfect message demands mastery of content, style, rhythm and pace. Plus an understanding of how words effect customers – emotionally.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘The difficulty of (literature) is not write, but to write what you mean: not to affect your reader, but to affect (him) precisely as you wish.’

It is possible to train Customer Correspondence Teams to write at this level. Some time ago the editor of The Economist wrote to the MD of Thames Water after receiving a letter from a delegate who had taken part in one of our seminars.

He said:

The attached letter gave me a shock – a most agreeable one. 

I confess I fully expected either no answer, or the usual sort of standard, off-the-point, get-this-fellow-off-our-backs one that comes from most organisations. Instead I got the thoroughly sensible, non-standard, thought-out letter, directed to the question I’d asked and giving it a persuasive answer.

Please pass on a pat on the back to your customer relations people, as confirmation that, yes, it really does earn goodwill to treat one’s customers as rational human beings, not a pain in the neck or gormless idiots.

And if your company would care to hire out its evident skills in that direction to certain well-known banks/stockbrokers /insurers and other people whom I won’t name, you ought to (though you doubtless wouldn’t) find some ready takers.

Well, he should know.

T2 writing courses helped Thames Water reduce complaints by 18% . Please see www.t2linguistics.com, or contact info@t2linguistics.com.

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