Lucy was reading some terms and conditions recently (well she started to; she didn’t get to the bottom because they were far too boring) and it occurred to her that they didn’t reflect the organisation they belonged to.
I know that businesses need to include the ‘small-print’ somewhere, but I’ve heard that the most common lie people tell is ‘I’ve read the terms and conditions’. Isn’t it time this was addressed? What if terms and conditions were more succinct and not such a chore to trawl through? Why do the poor terms and conditions miss out on a bit of ‘tone of voice’ treatment that is often evident elsewhere in a business’s communication? It’s like they don’t belong; an outcast that must be there yet nothing else in the business talks to them because they just don’t speak the same language.
So, what is tone of voice anyway? Well, it’s the language that identifies the personality of an organisation; the words used and how they’re strung together, and it reflects how an organisation would like to be perceived internally and externally. It’s a critical indicator of an organisation’s culture.
While some organisations put a lot of effort into their tone of voice, others don’t go far enough with it. The brand team know it really well, as do the marketing team, but that letter sent out from HR – is it using the same sort of language? Does the CEO model it in all his or her communication? Do the guys in catering and the folk in facilities understand and use it too?
The tone of voice is part of the organisation’s identity, and it should be evident internally as much as externally. Imagine joining a business that is perceived to be uber cool and funky, to find that emails are signed off with a stuffy ‘kindest regards’.
People are likely to mirror what they experience inside an organisation in the way they communicate outside of the organisation, so getting the internal tone of voice right will go a long way towards taking care of the external tone of voice. If employees are on the receiving end of a kick-ass style of leadership, it’ll be hard for them to shake that off when they face a customer, and no-one wants a kick-ass style of customer service.
It’s realistic for new employees to expect to find internally what they’ve only previously been able to experience from an external perspective. A mismatch can cause disillusionment and a cause for people leaving soon after starting.
Overall, tone of voice is important because it provides a consistent way of communicating, and also experience for internal people and customers, across the business.
However, there are a number of reasons why the tone of voice can fail, including:
- not everyone knows it or understands how to use it
- there are no consequences when people don’t use it
- new people aren’t trained in how to use it
It’s important to get it right. Developing and embedding the tone of voice starts with creating one that reflects the personality of the organisation. It won’t do to find a cool one that belongs to another organisation and nabbing it. That’d be like borrowing your teenager’s jeans and convincing yourself that you can carry off ripped knees when you really can’t. It’s worth spending time on getting it right for your organisation.
The next step is getting everyone to understand how they use it, and their obligation to do so. It goes without saying that this needs to be role-modelled without exception from the top. There needs to be accepted challenge when it isn’t happening, and it needs to be evident everywhere, from the notices in the loos to the strategic plan. A style guide is a great way of providing a guide and reminder.
And most of all, let’s not forget those poor, forgotten terms and conditions. I set the challenge out there to get the necessary messages across but with a bit of personality, whatever your organisation’s might be.