What Is the Right Tone of Voice When Talking to Customers?

4 min read

When you were a kid, did your parent ever admonish you by saying, “Don’t you take that tone with me?”

If so, you already have some idea that tone can clearly have an effect.

However, if you’re not using it to improve customer engagement, you may not understand just how much of an effect it can have.

What Is “Tone”?

Often times, “tone” can seem like one of those many marketing buzzwords that gets thrown around, which makes it easy to ignore this important component of your copy.

In short, tone conveys the writer’s attitude towards the people reading their message.

Why Is Tone Important?

Tone is important because it adds another dimension to the words you’re using. It implicitly tells the reader what kind of relationship you believe you have with them.

For customer engagement purposes, it is vital to consider the tone you use. If it doesn’t convey the same type of relationship your reader expects, you might lose them.

For example, someone may visit your website because they’re interested in becoming a member of your gym. All they want is a place to go a few times a week to run for a bit and lift a couple weights. Their only goal is to stay active and keep their weight within a healthy range.

However, your website uses language like:

  • “We demand more from our members.”
  • “Joe’s Gym is for the elite.”
  • “World-class fitness center.”

Clearly, your gym is looking for members who want to be part of something bigger. It’s for people who think of fitness as a vocation, not just a healthy activity.

Keep in mind, that tone is perfectly fine if those are truly the people you’re after. But if you were hoping to grab the Weekend Warrior crowd, that tone was most likely a miss.

What Tone of Voice Is Best for Customer Engagement?

As we just saw, there’s no one right tone for improving customer engagement. It depends on who your customers are and how they’d prefer you spoke with them.

However, when in doubt, adopt a tone with your customers that is:

  • Supportive
  • Understanding
  • Sympathetic

It can be tempting to try to add a bit of personality or even humor, but text is very easy to misinterpret. Without the help of your voice’s tone and nonverbal communication, you risk saying one thing but communicating something completely different.

Now that you know which tones are best for customer engagement, let’s look at two examples of what you want to avoid at all costs.

Condescension

If you value customer engagement, you’d obviously never want to come across as condescending, but it’s probably easier than you think.

Usually, a condescending tone is the result of copy that is too brisk.

For example:

“Your product is no longer under warranty.”

That doesn’t sound especially sympathetic, does it? If someone is asking about their warranty, it probably means that their product is no longer working. That situation deserves a little more attention than one seven-word sentence.

Apathy

An apathetic tone is teeming with boredom. It tells you customers that you don’t even care enough to be condescending. You’re just putting up with them until the closing bell.

In the example above, when someone is requesting help because the product they purchased is no longer working, an apathetic response might be, “That is not a known issue” or “We will look into it.”

Now, both of those messages could be true, but you could add some understanding to your tone by reassuring the customer about what you plan on doing to research the problem.

Do Different Situations Require Different Tones?

In short, yes.

A good way of thinking about the tones to use for optimal customer engagement is by looking at your buyer personas and where they are in your buyer’s journey when they connect with you.

Here are four tones to consider using depending on your customer’s needs.

1. Informative

When someone first comes to your site, what are they after?

They want to know what exactly your company does and how you can help them with the problem they’re currently contending with.

Therefore, you should take on an informative and helpful tone. The visitor should feel as though a very interested customer service representative just greeted them and is curious about how they can help.

That’s generally not a bad tone to keep throughout your site.

2. Authoritative

However, maybe you’re using your website to pitch yourself as a speaker or consultant. While you still want to be informative, it’s even more important that you’re authoritative. You need to convince people that they could benefit from your superior knowledgebase. The tone you use should help to impress them.

3. Philosophical

Maybe what you have to offer is best marketed to someone’s mind instead of their emotions.

For example, when Tim Ferris marketed his famous first book, The Four-Hour Workweek, he didn’t cite his credentials as an entrepreneur. His marketing actually left a lot to be desired in terms of how the book would allow someone to work just four hours a week.

Instead, Ferris pitched a philosophy to potential readers: there’s something wrong with the way we’ve been taught to do things.

In reviewing it for The Telegraph, Leslie Garner noted Ferris’ successful choice of tone, saying he had, “struck a chord with his critique of workers’ slavish devotion to corporations.”

4. Witty and Funny

Trying to be witty and funny with your copy can be very, very difficult. As we mentioned earlier, it’s easy to come off condescending instead. You can also simply come off as unfunny, which is never desirable, either.

Nonetheless, if you’re able to pull it off, a witty tone can reap massive rewards.

Entrepreneur James Altucher has mastered this tone. Despite being featured in Forbes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and countless other impressive publications, it’s the only one he uses.

Here are some of his tongue-in-cheek titles of blogs that have gone viral:

Altucher’s demographic tends to have already read other self-help books and blog posts, so they value someone who recognizes that and can play with their expectations a bit.

How to Pick the Right Tone

If you want to play it safe, stick to a tone that is informative and helpful.

However, don’t be afraid to experiment. Think about where your customers are in their journey and what kind of tone they would appreciate most at that time.


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