A couple of guys I know have just started their own business. I’ve been chatting to them about their customer comms.
These guys are great. As well as having a brilliant business idea, they’ve got bags of personality. They’re articulate, funny, and seriously know their onions. I reckon they’ll go far. Even so, a strange things happens when they deal with their (brand new) customers.
They start writing weird, sales-y things in their emails. They start saying awkward, scripted things on the phone that they’d never say to their friends or family. And, ultimately, they start sounding like salesmen, rather than the lovely, easy-going, genuine blokes they really are. It’s as if, in putting on their suits and ties, they’ve left their personalities at the door.
So why does this happen? For a start, we’re surrounded by pushy advertising and marketing speak all day, every day. Most of the corporate comms that drops onto our doormat or into our inbox is mediocre or worse, but we get used to it. And when we go to work, and flick some kind of mental switch that says we have to start being ‘professional’, all that corporatese starts coming out of our own mouths. We start signing off emails with ‘best regards’, even though the phrase itself makes us want to headbutt the water cooler.
And these two guys, like most people in their position, are instinctively reaching for this kind of recognised business-speak. After all – even if it’s not very good, and not really a reflection of who they are, at least it’s familiar.
All this makes me think of a singing teacher I once had. She said that singing isn’t about doing the right things – it’s stopping doing all the things that get in the way. Instead of trying to do something, she said, we just need to focus on our breathing and tell the story. It’s not easy to explain, but it made sense: for instance, on those high notes it’s no good straining and tightening the neck and throat – you’ve got to get all that tension out of the way, and just let the voice out.
And I suppose the same is true for these two guys. They don’t need to build a tone of voice so much as strip away all the stuff that’s stopping their real voice getting out. For them – and for many others like them – I wonder whether it’s less about creating something new than freeing something that’s already there.