Tips for better engagement (don’t let the title put you off)

Consumer, member, client engagement. Take your pick. My heart sinks a little when I hear these words. Not because they’re bad, but because they’ve become jargon. Fix engagement and we’ll close the savings gap, everyone will understand the value of advice and customers will buy our products.

The problem with jargon is it becomes an abstract concept and everyone else’s problem.

‘Engagement’ is often used interchangeably with ‘communication’ and as synonymous with ‘getting in touch’. Because we all have language, we mistakenly think we’ve mastered the art of communication, but it’s more than words. Engaging communication must be meaningful to everyone involved.

I’ve spent time with advisers who run successful businesses. They have different business models and reasons to engage their clients. For some, it’s establishing a relationship with clients inherited through a merger. For others, it’s keeping clients up to date with news. They invariably need help because their clients don’t do what they want them to do.

I also have plenty of experience of poor provider attempts to engage with customers. Here are some common mistakes:

“My job is to write a letter, send an e-mail or write a brochure.”

No it’s not. That’s your end result. Your job is to help someone understand something better than they did before. Approach it as a letter writing exercise and you focus on the letter rather than the person who’s reading it.

“Compliance won’t sign that off.”

Compliance is important but should be secondary to audience needs. Check out the FCA discussion paper Smarter Consumer Communications: “ we also signal our support and encouragement for firms that are writing for the consumer first and then ensuring communications are compliant, rather than the other way round”. Be brave on behalf of your audience.

“We’re experts so my audience expect a certain standard.

The problem is, this professional standard often manifests itself in complexity. This insight from the Wall Street Journal shows exactly what investors (i.e. people with money who need our help) want – simple English.

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that engaging communication is simply words and creative style. It’s also about analysis, logic, structure and social science. If this seems daunting, then hire someone to take care of your communication. But failing that, here are some tips:

  1. Know who you’re speaking to. Mailing lists are not homogenous. The best results come from targeting specific people with relevant messages.

  2. Second guess questions and give the answers. Perform a critical analysis of your proposition.

  3. Back up statements with facts and examples – be plausible.

  4. Explain benefits and signpost action.

  5. Include opposing view points. Your audience will trust you more.

  6. Good writing comes on the rewrite – leave it, come back and take time to get it right.

  7. Your communication should have a planned architecture and take your audience on a journey.

  8. Make it simple, not simplistic. The Economist style guide is a fantastic reference document: “clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought”.

  9. Develop your own voice.

  10. Edit by collaborating with others you trust to give an honest opinion. And read out loud – that can be very illuminating.

Perhaps I haven’t followed my own advice, but I hope it’s been useful all the same.