4 Ways Structure Can Improve Your Communication
You can tell when someone is talking out of their butt. They’re not saying anything of substance and their words seem to be all over the place.
This can be frustrating in customer service. No one wants to resolve an issue with an agent who clearly lacks the ability to help. Even if they’re charismatic and engaging, listening to someone unable to state concrete ideas and reasoning is useless.
That’s why talking structure is crucial in communication, especially customer service. Spontaneous conversation can be stressful but structure helps you explain things clearly and keep a level head. When customers are angry, structuring your reasoning can lead to quicker understanding. It can also help you upsell your product or gain new customers.
Structure makes you a better speaker
Without realizing it, we live structured lives. You wouldn’t walk into a grocery store with a long shopping list and grab frozen items first. Or start watching a new TV show on the fifth episode.
Structure lets you take certain steps for a desired outcome, which is also a logical approach to customer communication. As long as you have a point to prove, structure helps you assert your position.
Our ability to persuade others depends not simply on the strength of our message but on how we build our arguments and the persuasive techniques we employ.Erin Meyer, “The Culture Map”
People are rarely satisfied with a simple statement. If you tell a customer, “I recommend upgrading your account” structure helps you give solid proof, hard facts and honest feedback for better persuasion .
Structure also saves time. If you’re pitching an idea to a potential business partner, having ordered talking points makes the meeting quick and is easier for listeners to follow along with. It may even build intrigue. It’s just in how and when you deliver it.
How to talk with structure
There are several methods you can try depending on the situation. The ones I compiled are similar in nature and easy to adopt. Find one that appeals to you.
1What? So what? Now what?
Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Matt Abrahams introduced this technique in his book, “Speaking Up Without Freaking Out” to help make communication more memorable:
This structure is straightforward and practical. In three steps, you can organize information in a way that is easy for others to process. Try using it the next time you write an email or during a live chat conversation.
Here’s how it works:
What: Identify the context of the situation. What is the customer’s question or issue?
So what: Develop further ideas from the context that will resonate with your customer. Is there a feature or detail the customer may like or find helpful? Why should it matter to them? Use clues, such as your customer’s business or needs, to make your idea stick.
Now what: Present the next steps for moving forward. If you suggested an upgrade or outlined the benefits of using a new feature, offer to help them upgrade their account.
Here’s a short example using our new messaging software for context:
“Unified Messaging launched. It will make it easier for you to talk to customers. I can add it to your account so you can try it out today.”
2What — Why — How Feedback
Customer service agents are no strangers to feedback. But how you digest and present it can truly facilitate positive change. The “What — Why — How Feedback” structure ensures that your agents report on customer feedback in a way that’s clear for everyone to understand.
This structure is helpful when creating tickets or writing notes in your work management tool.
When reporting feedback, you should answer:
What is happening: For example, what did the customer like/dislike, what did they say needs to be improved or added?
Why is it happening: How did the customer come across this issue or matter? What sparked this need or idea?
How can it improve: What are some solutions or steps the company can take to make things better?
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Whether you collect customer feedback from a survey after a chat or via a page on your website, this structure helps you effectively report requests. Being able to state the what and why of a situation will make your argument more persuasive .
3Problem/Opportunity — Solution — Benefit
Opposite to “What — Why — How Feedback,” this structure helps agents pitch an idea to or entice the customer. Try using it when explaining something like a new feature, product or upgrade to your customer.
The idea is to identify a problem and present your company’s solution:
Problem/Opportunity: Expose an issue many people face, or explain how an existing product, service or practice can be improved.
Solution: Your company’s future or existing plan to address the problem. Stronger if supplemented with facts and figures.
Benefit: What the customer will directly experience as a result.
Here’s how this structure looks when applied, again, to Userlike :
“Businesses that offer web support struggle to always be online. Userlike created Unified Messaging, an asynchronous solution that lets agents and customers casually send and receive messages when it’s most convenient for them. Clients who use this software won’t need a dedicated support team online 24/7.”
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4The Pyramid Principle
The aim of this structure is simple: start with the answer then give supporting evidence. This may feel counterintuitive to companies in an applications-first culture, but answering a customer’s question first may help reduce conversation time. This is helpful in live chat or messaging where fast response rates are expected.
The steps are:
Give the answer first: When a customer asks a question, don’t beat around the bush. State the facts up front.
Summarize your supporting arguments: Once you’ve given your answer, follow it up with at least three supporting explanations or arguments.
Logically order supporting ideas: Organize your points by time, structure and importance. Focus on what’s helpful or intriguing.
Obvious from its name, the Pyramid Principle structures your speaking into a pyramid, the main idea at the top with supporting information on the bottom.
Here’s how I would use the Pyramid Principle in response to a question about Userlike:
“Does Unified Messaging have a mobile app?”
Not at the moment.
- Developing an app is a top priority on our roadmap.
- Unified Messaging easily integrates with mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
- Your customers can reach you via their favorite mobile app.
Ordering supporting ideas:
- We can alert you when an app is ready to be tested, if you’re interested.
- In the meantime, give our integrations a try.
- They’re convenient because agents don’t need to be online to receive messages and can respond during normal working hours.
Talk with structure in your personal life
A new manner of speaking may feel uncomfortable and be stressful at first. Try using one of these structures in your day-to-day life to become more confident at it. Maybe your friends want to see a different movie than you, or you’re knee-deep in a political discussion on Reddit. Using structure can make your arguments more convincing, and you’ll soon notice it becoming second nature to you.
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