Write To the Customer, Not About the Customer

Every company claims to be customer-centric. But when I look at the average company's communication through my copywriter glasses, I find few who make the cut.

Website texts, FAQs, tutorials, help desk articles – too rarely do their writers stick to the simple rule that tops our internal support style guide: write to the customer, not about the customer.

Let’s say I’m writing a customer notification in our changelog about that you can now reach Userlike's support via WhatsApp. The about-the-customer version would look like this:

Dear Userlike Customers, We want you to know that we now actively offer support via our APIWHA WhatsApp Integration! Customers can reach our Support Team via WhatsApp Messenger at +49 1516 1847043 or by clicking this link!

That’s not so terrible… But now see what happens when we rewrite it with a to-the-customer focus.

Dear Userliker, You can now reach our support team via our APIWHA WhatsApp Integration! Reach out via WhatsApp Messenger at +49 1516 1847043 or by clicking this link!

Not only does a you-focus reduce the words you need for the same content (always good), it also makes the text feel directed at you.

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Most copywriters know this trick, but most support copy is produced by support professionals. Of course, when they’re chatting or calling with a customer, the you-approach comes naturally to them. Not to Bob, though.

Customer: “Hi Bob! How can I adjust the color of my Chat Widget?”
Bob: “Our customers can adjust the design of their Chat Widgets by clicking “Edit Widget” in their Dashboard.”
Customer: “They’re lucky, your customers”
Bob: “For further questions, we maintain a knowledge base that our customers can reach 24/7.”
Customer: “….”

It sounds awfully robotic in a one-on-one setting, but that’s how many companies sound in mass communication mode. Just check out the sub headline of Zendesk, a software solution for customer support.

screenshot of zendesk website

Our customer service and engagement platform is powerful and flexible, and scales to meet the needs of any business.

I'm sorry, Zendesk copywriters, but that doesn’t sound customer-centric at all... How about this?

The powerful and flexible customer service and engagement platform that scales to the needs of your business.

Still too many empty words in there to my taste, but at least the sentence now feels like it's addressed to the reader. The secret of customer-focused mass communication is to write for an audience of millions as if it was an audience of one.

Some more examples:

About the customerTo the customer
We have released a new feature that allows our customers to improve their support logic by guiding incoming customer requests to service agents based on their skills.With this new feature you can improve your support logic by guiding incoming customer requests to service agents based on their skills.
We want our customers to know that we’ll add some new features and improvements to our system on Friday the 10th of August. This means there’ll be a downtime from 9PM - 9:30PM CEST. We recommend customers that are still chatting around that time to schedule in a coffee/watercooler break.We’ll add some new features and improvements to your system on Friday the 10th of August. This means there’ll be a downtime from 9PM - 9:30PM CEST. Please schedule in a coffee/watercooler break if you’re still chatting around that time.
Userlike Customer on any one of our products will soon notice that their Dashboard includes chat statistics. Starting next week, our system will collect some key chat data which will soon be presented at the top of the dashboard. This will include a running total of your chats for the day, and a weekly summary of chats over the last 7 days.You'll soon notice that your Dashboard includes chat statistics. Starting next week, your system will collect some key chat data which will soon be presented at the top of your dashboard. You'll find a running total of your chats for the day, and a weekly summary of your chats over the last 7 days.

Note that writing to the customer goes beyond a switch from the third to the second person. It’s about cutting out everything that's irrelevant from your customer’s perspective.

The customer doesn’t care whether she is a customer or a free user – she cares about the value of your product or service to her. She doesn’t care that you want your customers to know something, or what will happen to your system – she cares about what she needs to know and what will happen to her system.

If you want to be truly customer-centric, start by backing up your words with this simple writing tip.