Moving to a new house can be many things – stressful, time-consuming, scary and, of course, exciting. It certainly produces a large amount of paperwork, as you sort out contracts for your utilities and try to get everything working efficiently. It was while I was reading a letter from British Gas, confirming my connection, that I noticed the latest example of something that has been on my radar for some time – the change to a more friendly, informal approach when interacting with customers and potential customers.
I first became aware of this when I changed accountants and started using Holland Harper LLP. When my contract ceased with my previous accountant, I received a formal letter detailing the services they no longer provided. At first, I was somewhat taken aback by the way it didn’t thank me for my custom over several years and then it dawned on me that what really jarred was the way it was so formal. It was utterly professional, extremely formal, straight to the point and, basically, unfriendly.
Reflecting on this, I realised that we have all become accustomed to a friendly tone in our dealings with businesses. The letter from British Gas was not formal, it was friendly in tone, thanking me for my custom and expressing the hope that I was happily ‘settling into my new home’. Now, I am fully aware that these are standardised letters being sent out via an automated system but the fact that the company has taken the time to make the letter ‘feel’ personalised, means a lot to a customer. It shows they are grateful for your custom and appreciate your choice of their service.
When I spoke to Roy at Holland Harper LLP about this, he suggested that the letter I received from my former accountants was probably a template letter that all accountants send out at the end of a contract. If they are standard letters, therefore, like the standard letters sent out by British Gas, they can easily be personalised to make the tone friendlier. Obviously, if there is a legal aspect to a letter, and this may be the case with the termination of an accountancy contract, then those obligations must be fulfilled but this does not exempt the sender from using a friendly tone.
Thinking about this further, I was reminded of some interaction I recently had with an online company called Tall Girls. I needed some shoes for an important birthday party and a friend suggested this site. (Being nearly 5ft 11inches tall means I have larger than average feet and can rarely buy shoes on the high street). I ordered the shoes and awaited delivery. As the day approached, I was sent an email informing me ‘Graham’ would be delivering the shoes. I was unable to be at the house when the delivery was supposed to happen and so he couldn’t deliver. I was then sent an email informing me that delivery hadn’t taken place, including a picture of my front door. Delivery was re-arranged with ‘Graham’ and this time I was in. This interaction with the clothing company and its delivery company had a more personal feel that you previously expected. Obviously, I am aware that taking a picture of the door also proved that they had tried to deliver the product and by giving me the delivery person’s name, I was allowed to feel safer about a strange person arriving at my door. But, the fact that I was able to greet him by name made the experience, as the consumer, more pleasant.
We have become accustomed to experiencing a more personal, less formal tone in our dealings with companies. Why this is so, is difficult to explain. For one thing, businesses have to accept that society is less formal in general. We are less familiar with formality and can find it off-putting. At the same time, through the rise of social media and websites, customers are also more aware that they have a direct line to the company and it is not secret. Previously, if you needed to complain about the service you received, you either telephoned or wrote a letter. These are essentially private affairs but now you can go on social media, complain and it is a public affair. Companies cannot afford to ignore a complaint when it is in the public domain.
Greater access means the companies must find ways of keeping us happy. Obviously, exceptional service and great value are two ways to do this but becoming our ‘friends’ can help to create customer loyalty and repeat business.
Some companies have taken this ‘matey’ approach to extremes. Innocent Drinks is a large successful company but, from the start, they have projected an image of being friendly and informal. Look on the side of any packet and you will see an exhortation to ‘Pop into Innocent Towers!’ What would happen if you just turned up at their office door, I do not know, but it is a friendly tone, very different from the formal approach you used to see on the back of food-stuffs informing you that the company had tried its best to get the product to you in peak condition, etc. etc.
People buy people. It is hard for large companies to create a single identity for people to build a connection with but, if they feel they are being treated in a friendly, less formal manner, then they will experience some of that connection.
Creating a single ‘tone’ for your business is very important. If you need help creating a professional yet less formal business identity, reflected in your letters, advertising and public image, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org