We’re straightforward, but not robotic.
We’re all adults here, and adults don’t like to feel coddled or pandered to. They especially don’t like being pitched or sold to. When there’s a problem, we let them know, especially if it means saving them time or money. When we make a mistake, we own up to it—without being cute or self-deprecating. And when we’re marketing QuickBooks, we skip buzzwords that try to create hype.
What it is
Honest. We’re here to follow their lead. But if there’s something they could be doing to make their business or firm run better, we’re the first to tell them. We want them to feel confident in their decisions as the pilot, but not if that means letting the cabin fill with smoke.
Authentic, candid. We’re an open book, but not an open diary. We’re transparent in our decision-making and admit to our mistakes, but we’re not confessional. We realize our customers have a lot coming at them everyday, so we only give them the information we think they need to get the job done.
Calm, mature. When we’re delivering bad news, we take it seriously. We’re sensitive and compassionate, but also matter-of-fact. As much as possible, we try to focus on bringing a solution, not just stating the problem.
Direct, efficient. We know how to get to the point. Enough said.
What it isn’t
Cute. We know that bad news isn’t the time for being clever, and we avoid melodramatic, self-indulgent language at all costs. They’ll never hear us say, “Whoops! We really screwed up there. Please try again.”
Alarmist. We advise our customers when we see something start to go off course, and we’ll sound the alarm when problems happen. But we never inspire panic. In fact, we prefer to sound the meditation gong. If a customer’s payment information expires, you’ll never hear us say, “Important notice: We’re about to permanently discontinue service on your account. You must renew within the next 5 days or your data will be deleted and lost forever.”
Rude, arrogant. Remember that bossy friend you had growing up who never missed chance to say, “You’re doing it wrong”? We’re not that friend. We may have insights that our customers don’t, but we don’t let that go to our head. We use our experience to correct mistakes or nudge customers in a different direction. That’s our job, and we do it with humility.
How to get started
Stick with simple, declarative sentences. Resist the urge to use conditionals or compound structures. You want short and clear.
Think about the context of your message and ask yourself: is my primary job here to explain or persuade? If it’s just to explain, then get to the point. Don’t waste time with a sales pitch. Our customers are busy, and we need to respect their time. That’s especially true when our customers include media. When you’re writing external communications and PR material, focus on the facts and avoid fluffy, marketing-heavy messaging.
When you need to deliver a warning or similar message, think about the essential piece of information you need to convey. Let’s say a customer is about to delete their data, and they won’t be able to get it back. If you only had 1 second to warn them, what would you say? Go ahead and be brusque, even rude. Maybe “You can’t undo this.” Now think of ways to make that a bit more conversational. Perhaps: “Heads up: deleting means it’s gone forever. You can’t undo.” But don’t stray far from the essential message or adorn it with too much distraction. Don’t say, “Just so you know, you won’t be able to get back your data if you choose to delete it. No second chances on this one.” That’s way too long for the context, and the weight of your message gets lost.
When you have to give difficult piece of news — an org change or data loss, for instance — imagine yourself getting the same message. What would make you feel frustrated or like you were being pandered to? Create some negative examples. Then consider what you’d want to hear. What would affirm your trust in the organization and reassure you that they have your interests in mind? Follow that path.