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Making FAQ worth reading

portrait of a happy young businessman using laptop on street

An FAQ that makes someone laugh is a positive for your business

Looking at options for some software, I viewed a few FAQ pages lately (FAQ being Frequently Asked Questions).

Some FAQs are better than others, and some were great – informative and easy to understand.

Using humour

An FAQ page is full of facts, otherwise what’s the point of having it? But that doesn’t mean you have to make it all staid and boring.

Here are some examples for amusing FAQs I have spotted:

Q: How do I invite someone?

A: The basic invitations are simple SMS messages. Naturally, you have other options to bring your friends here. Try sending them a download link via any other messaging service: email, Facebook, WhatsApp, an actual telegram — you name it.

Q: Will you have ads? Or sell my data? Or steal my beloved and enslave my children?

A: No.

Q: will these faqs ever end?

A: well it always has before!

Q: You didn’t answer my question. How come?

A: Probably because this FAQ was written by a marketing person. Please ask us your question using our contact us form.

 

A bit of humour and lightness makes the whole page easier to read – and more memorable, too, and every business wants to be remembered.

How can you add some humour to your FAQ page?

 

*Image courtesy of  Frugo at 123rf 

Communicating to potential voters

It's hard to choose who to vote for if the candidates communicate poorly.

It’s hard to choose who to vote for if the candidates communicate poorly.

Throughout Victoria, we are about to vote for our local councils.

Unbelievably, in my ward, there are 21 candidates for us to choose from to select 3 councillors!

This is a lot of people to consider while trying to choose my vote and is a bit overwhelming but it is useful from a communications perspective as I can see big differences in their statements.

Candidates’ statements

So, putting aside politics and any particular platforms these people are standing for, here is a summary of the candidates I can choose this week. I am basing this on the official statements prepared by each candidate that were sent to us by the Electoral commission, and I am not using anyone’s real name!

group 1 – sole platform

George – has a personal dislike to something other residents are doing so wants us to vote for him to stop that behaviour.

Fred – is retired and is standing to get better deals for older residents.

Sally – is mum to young children and will fight for better services for new mums and for families.

Communications – all three of these people have written a reasonable statement that is easy enough to understand and sound like reasonable people. I just find it difficult to trust someone who is obviously going into council for their own best interests.

group 2 – political

Jenny – states she is affiliated with a major political party but lists various local issues and experience to show relevance. The second half of her statement is more formal and is about policies, sounding much more like a politician than a local councillor.

Ed – does not state any political affiliation but the statement sounds formal and like a federal election campaign piece. It is not law that candidates state they belong to a party (and follow part lines) but this is a contentious issue of late. All sounds pretty perfect really…

group 3 – mixed platforms

Rachel – the current councillor and someone who is involved in our community – and the only one most people I know have met or seen around. Her statement shows her passion, is easy to understand (both through competent writing and using approachable language and style) and ends with “I ask you to vote for me” (rather than demanding it). She covers a number of issues.

Angus – a young person who grew up in the area and covers a number of issues in his statement. Again, it is well written and readable.

Communications – there are others in this group but all of them discuss a number of issues in clear English and declare no connection with a political party.

group 4 – questionable

David – started his statement with “7 years house designing in Shanghai; Melbourne.” No, I don’t know what that means either – and as he works in the IT industry and is standing for a council role (not a council planning job!), it makes little sense.

David’s statement has many examples I could use in my bad writing posts – “Experience in retails…Involving security issue with PM…I pointed city apartment…Successfully suggested VCAT improve hearing procedure with writing hearing” {the lack of final full stop is copied by the way!}

Due to his poor written communication, I don’t understand what he is standing for – even when I can guess the meaning of a sentence, I can not be sure if he is for or against that issue!

group 5 – pushy

Simon sent a SMS to some people, outwardly to remind people of the need ot vote, but everyone I know of (and others according to local media) were irritated by this message. Simon came across as pushy and people felt their privacy had been invaded by these messages sent to private mobile phones.

Other than the SMS, Simon fitted into group 2 but I know at least two people who voted him as number 21 purely due to the SMS. As I have said at various times, being aggressive and overly confident in communications often backfires (with Australian audiences anyway).

Communicating with potential votes

Obviously, there are other ways these candidates can promote themselves to the voters but let’s limit ourselves to these statements. Because that is the only way most people in our area get information to make a choice in the elections.

There is a wide selection of writing styles – from someone who does not know how to write in English, through those who write good conversational English, to those who write formal, professional pieces. Just this choice of style will have a big impact on how voters will perceive each candidate.

Given there are 21 candidates (and apparently some areas have many more than that!), many voters will not read the statements in depth nor do other research. So the style and approachability of these statements is critical for their success.

Who to vote for?

Based purely on their communication skills as described above, who would you vote for if you lived in this area?

Who would you not vote for? This is possibly an even more important question for anyone trying to learn how to communicate effectively to get positive results.

 

 

 

Production English

Last night I heard of production English for the first time and am quite fascinated with it.

New country, new language

When many people arrive in Australia, they learn English to be able to communicate with other people who live here. English classes teach them things like ‘hello, how are you?’, ‘can I please buy…?’ and ‘where is the library?’

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I assume the same thing happens for most people who move to a country with a language different to their own.

welcome into a pit - an unexpected sign

How would you interpret this situation if you couldn’t read much English? Safety can be jeopardised if people can’t read or understand notices.

What about less generic language?

The challenge really starts when people need more specific language – the words and phrases you don’t get in beginner classes.

For instance, trying to follow a procedure or read instructions on machinery can be quite difficult if you only have basic English.

Especially once you consider grammar and similar words (that is, homonyms and other potentially confusing words that I define in Monday Meanings) can make it even harder to understand – just like pilots can have trouble if English is not their native tongue.

The story I heard last night was about a group of people who work well at their jobs but are sometimes limited or put at risk by the fact that they don’t have ‘production English’ to help them at work.

Obviously, ensuring that procedures and instructions are written as simply and clearly as possible is one aspect – and still a very important task.

Yet it is also critical to help such people learn relevant words in English. And there are programs in Melbourne now that are working on solving this issue, at least for some groups of immigrants.

Does your business have procedures or instructions that would be challenging for someone with only basic English?

 

* Image courtesy of 123RF

Choosing titles carefully

Maybe it’s just me, but I always prefer to learn things myself before I get a sales pitch from someone, so I always look at a company’s website before I speak to them.

I just received an email which was about a tool I could potentially use for one of my clients. So I went to their website to find out more about this tool.

As it turns out, I couldn’t find anything about the tool on their site – and I didn’t really like the site much to be honest, but that’s a different story!

Latest news

Spiders and webs over a news key

Old news doesn’t have the power of fresh news – be careful with the expectations you build

Whilst on one page, a comment about them moving caught my eye. It was actually a heading to a news item, showing as a news feed under the title of ‘Latest News’.

Next to the heading was the date of the news item – March 2012. Not exactly a recent move then!

All the other news items in the rotation were older, dating from late 2011 to early 2012.

Staying current

News that is over two years old isn’t fresh or current.

I get that keeping a website/blog/social media platform up to date can be hard work and takes a lot of dedication (hey, I know I haven’t blogged very often this year myself!)

However, it doesn’t look good to prospective clients if the supposedly fresh part of the site is very old. In fact, being years old can look worse than not having a blog or such at all.

The lack of freshness can be minimised though by a careful choice of title.

‘Latest news’ leads people to expect current stories – two year old stories looks unprofessional and made me wonder if the business could deliver promised digital solutions.

Some better titles may have been:

  • things of note
  • points of interest
  • our news archive
  • our blog posts
  • {company name} updates
  • {company name} news

Although the news and updates titles still give some expectation of fairly current stories.

My next blog post will give other suggestions for improving such a situation, but in the meantime, what other titles can you think of for an old news feed?

How would you react to such old news when assessing a potential supplier’s website?

Only make useful references

I’ve been reading a number of privacy policies and notices lately – not very exciting but necessary with new privacy laws coming into effect on 12 March.

One policy included the following (slight edits made to protect that business):

Disclosure to overseas recipients

We may disclose your personal information to overseas parties. If we disclose your personal information to overseas recipients, we will do so in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).

Links in a circle interupted by one faulty link

Circular links don’t really help people follow the information flow

Under new laws, you must specify if any data will be stored outside of Australia so this section is necessary. But I don’t find it particularly helpful to be told to read their policy to find out if my data goes overseas – especially as I am already reading their policy…

make references useful

  1. never refer back to the same document (a different section of the document is fine, of course) as it is circular and meaningless
  2. give enough information to make the reference easy to follow up on. For example, ‘refer to the product section of our website’ or ‘see page 6 of the member handbook’ give clarity
  3. if online, add a hyperlink to the appropriate page, not just the home page.
  4. give some idea of what can be found at the reference so people can judge if it is relevant to them. It doesn’t have to be a long list, but some guidance helps – ‘details on widget sizes’ or ‘widget care instructions’ or even ‘background research about widgets’ is more useful than ‘for more information’.

 

 

Correct details in tests are critical

I came across another example of errors in details being an issue.

Our daughter’s school sent out an email including ‘(1 of 2)’ in the subject. The attached pdf explained they were testing the communications system for parents so we should expect two emails – if only one arrives, contact the school.

Testing communications seems like a good plan and the test seemed simple enough.

Then I got a second email which referred to being the first email of two and had the same attachment. Was it an error to get this email twice or did they accidentally send it twice? Should I reply to say I got it twice, possibly like hundreds of other parents, or give them a chance to explain the duplication first?

Flurry of envelopes flying into a laptop to represent incoming emails

Responding to a mistake can lead to a flurry of emails – avoiding that is one good reason to check details before hitting send!

Then, I got a third email asking me to log into the school’s site to read a letter. The letter was the same attachment as in the original email (which clearly states ‘this is the first email and please contact us if you don’t get a second one’).

Which detail is wrong – the letter stating a second letter was coming or the sending of the same letter twice?

Where does that put their test?

On one hand, I got both types of email so the systems are working and my contact details are correct.

Do they have my email address in the system twice so I will get two versions of every group email they send?

Was it human error to get the same attachment in the second email type or is that a failure of the system?

I can not reply as I got both emails or I can reply and explain I got three emails and the same attachment.

Which do you think will help their testing process more? What would you do?

 

Get the details right

Are you a details person?

Many people are bored by details (probably all of us really – we just like details in some things, not all things) and that includes details of grammar and good writing.

You can’t convince me with poor attention to details

I received a letter a few days ago.

Images of sample letters from Word Constructions

A nicely presented letter has little value if the details in the letter are wrong.

I like getting letters, and it doesn’t happen as often now we have so many electronic options available to us. So it’s disappointing when the letter turns out to be spam or a scam rather than something interesting.

This particular letter I recognised as spam straight away as I’ve received rubbish from this group before (and so have clients who luckily ask me if it is legitimate before acting).

However, standing in the sun was nice so I actually read their letter and found numerous reasons to not act as they wished.

  1. they were using an email address I have never used so obviously made it up – to convince me you are credible, use my real email address
  2. they missed the .au in my email and website addresses – and coming from an Australian company wanting to promote me in an Australian directory makes it even more pathetic to my mind. It wouldn’t take long to look at my website to discover the .au in the URL
  3. it was sent to my home address but addressed to Word Constructions – a detail that made me instantly suspicious anyway.
  4. paragraph one includes “This now includes additional subscriber benefits listed below” which is grammatically poor; paragraph three includes “… entitle you to additional subscriber benefits (see below).”
    However, the letter does not contain any subscriber benefits.
  5. a smaller detail is lack of consistency such as “The Internet reaches 15 million… (internet analysis…” (Internet or internet – they need to choose one and list that in a style guide)
  6. multiple sentences were missing words or just didn’t make sense – one will be discussed and improved in my March newsletter I think!
  7. two sentences in a row ‘kindly’ requested me to do something – is it kind of me to sign a form to (supposedly) get promotion via their directory?

 Businesses need to watch the details

Get the details right and people are not distracted by the mistakes – meaning they can focus on your call to action or message.

Get the details wrong and people doubt your professionalism and worry whether you pay attention to details when they are paying you. That is, if you throw together a letter instead of putting effort into every word of it, will you also rush through fixing my car, cutting my hair, building my house, designing my website and so on?

It’s nice to think people will ignore errors because we’re nice people with good intentions.

But first impressions count and if those incorrect details are the first thing a potential customer sees, it can be enough to give your competitor the job.

So how does your business avoid errors in the details?

How does your business react to potential suppliers if they get details wrong?

Answering complaints

I have been on the receiving end of poor business service recently – and it really is not pleasant.

Losing my business should be unpleasant for that supplier, too, as it means I no longer refer clients there.

Not delivering as promised has had a huge impact on my client – that put the supplier in a bad light, of course. And needing to make multiple requests to find a revised delivery date became very annoying very quickly.

But what has really made me turn my back on that supplier is how they handled these delays.

Dealing with complaints and problems

In life, sometimes things go wrong and promises aren’t kept.

Angry man about to hammer a piggy bank.

Do you want your customer to be this angry? It could cost you a lot more than coins in a piggy bank if you don’t try to resolve their concerns.

When your business can’t deliver, though, you have two basic options. Be honest and apologise to the customer, or ignore it and pretend there is no problem.

Guess which option the above supplier chose…

I was given an excuse the first time I complained. The second time I was told ‘I can’t see any record of you calling on Monday’. And it still took a week for the sales person to respond to those messages. And more days before she gave me a revised date.

Every contact from the sales person had a little ‘sorry for the delay :(‘ message and ‘I look forward to hearing back from you again’ but generally ignored most of what I wrote in my formal complaint. I did not feel she was taking my concerns seriously nor that she was particularly interested in helping me get my order fulfilled.

The end result being that I am working with my bank to get a full refund and I will not use this supplier again.

Positive responses to complaints

To learn from my ex-supplier’s example, here are things they could have done to improve the situation – even if the delivery was delayed by more than two weeks.

  1. Ideally, they could have contacted me with an expected delivery time when I first placed the order – especially if they knew they were busy and couldn’t make the promised times on their website. And especially as I had requested this in my original order…
  2. As soon as I made contact about the delivery not reaching me as expected I should have received contact from the sales person. A quick ‘sorry for the delay – let me look into what is happening and get back to you’ would have been better than silence as I would have felt they were interested in serving customers
  3. After multiple contacts from an unhappy customer, they could have tried to help me get my delivery and feel better about them. Whether that was regular follow ups, a discount, a bonus offer or something else doesn’t matter – the lack of that meant the problem is what I associate with their brand now.
  4. The sales person could have actually answered my concerns in her email – and probably could have left out sad faces, frankly. I’ll give some examples of that in a separate post next week.
  5. Acknowledged my frustration and let me feel heard. For instance, instead of telling me they hadn’t recorded my first call they could have said ‘sorry – we should have answered you by now.’
  6. When they told me ‘I’ll get back to you soon’, they should have contacted me rather than wait for my next complaint. Again, it would have been much better to have kept their word by contacting me and letting me know what was happening (even if it was limited information) than let me wait and lose any confidence in their business.

Do you deal with complaints?

Have you ever thought about how you respond to complaints from customers?

It can be confronting to admit you’ve done something wrong (or less than ideal anyway) and may be tempting to hide from it, but you can turn things around if you deal with a complaint well. Or at least minimise the damage.

Preparing an attitude and perhaps a procedure ahead of time may help your business do better with complaints than my ex-supplier. I hope you do a lot better, in fact!

* Image courtesy of Kozzi

Writing annual reports and attachments as one

So you have decided to have an annual report and a couple of inclusions that will be sent out with the annual report.

Task list for annual mailing

An annual report and any inclusions all form one annual mailing project.

Does this equate to three separate projects, or three parts to one project?

It is a good question, and I can see a temptation to treat them as two or there projects. Maybe you outsource the big project (the annual report) but figure you can manage the smaller ones yourself. or maybe you want to outsource to different people so the inclusions don’t distract from the annual report and vice versa.

However, I consider them to be aspects of one project and like the idea of them being managed as such. I usually mange the inclusions along with annual reports for clients, even if it is just a review and feedback on an existing document.

why consider them as a single project

Treating the annual report and any inclusions as one project works because

  • they  all need to be prepared by the same deadline and delivered to the same place for processing and mailing
  • the various elements of the annual report mailing are linked (as they are received in same envelope) so you want consistency and to them to complement each other which is much harder to manage if created independently of each other. Even if all match the style guide, any themes and layout options may not quite fit together
  • in terms of time management, I find I can work on one piece while another is with the designer or being reviewed by my client
  • any images can be managed so they are only used once or duplicated in every item (as best suits the situation)
  • it is easier to make references between the items. For instance, the annual report may state ‘we’re launching a new product – to find out the prices, see the enclosed flyer’. This is riskier when you can’t be sure what the other items actually include – if the flyer doesn’t include prices, the annual report reference looks silly.

Have you ever separated the annual report preparation from the inclusions preparation?  I’d love to hear your reasons and the results of your effort, so please add your experiences in the comments below!

Answer customer questions

Even the negative ones.

If a customer has a question, they want you to answer it – and preferably as soon as possible so they can move on to the next step.

answering questions leads to customers

Answer potential customer questions to get more customers

Look at your website, brochures, social media profiles and other written messages – do you answer customer questions?

Smaller documents can only answer a few questions, obviously, but make them important questions (like how to contact you for further answers!)

Scary questions

Some businesses are scared of people asking a certain question – or act that way anyway.

Why not stand out by being the brave business? It is honest and gives customers fewer things to worry about because you have answered their questions.

And it gives you a chance to make things more positive, too.

So a dentist website can include “will it hurt? Well, yes it might but we’ll warn you and do whatever we can to minimise it.”

Here are some more industry specific examples…

  •  personal trainers: ‘do I really have to work out in between visits?’ ‘Only if you want the best results!”
  • accountants: ‘am I going to have to dig out all my old receipts?’ ‘I’m afraid so – the more receipts we get, the more we may be able to get back for you at tax time!’
  • editors: ‘will you really point out all my spelling mistakes?’ ‘Yes, that’s what you’re paying us for – but we promise not to make you feel bad about any of them!’
  • online shops: ‘do you charge postage and delivery?’ ‘Yes we do. We decided to charge official postage rates rather than increase the prices of everything to cover delivery.’

Do you answer any potentially negative questions in your materials? How have clients responded to those answers?

If you want some ideas on what questions customers may silently being asking – and how to answer them nicely – then contact me soon so we can help your customers find what they need.