The more I write for websites, the more apparent it is how everything comes back to the visitor, customer, user, reader, prospect or whatever word you use for the person coming to your service.
If you’re feeling stuck on what to write, always seek inspiration from your customers or audience. Everything you need to know is there – what worries them, what delights them and what they need to see when they look at your pages.
Firstly, a little housekeeping:
What is ‘customer voice’?
It’s the words and phrases the people who need or use your service or product use. It’s the language and vocabulary they themselves will relate to.
Why would you want to know this?
So you can tap directly into the conversation that is happening in your customers’ minds and speak to them as if you knew exactly what they were already thinking. They’ll think you are totally connected with them and truly understand what they need. This is the voodoo and ninja skills you’ve been looking for.
From studying what people are saying about your service or industry, you can get direction on all aspects of your copy and content, like:
- What topics to write about
- What issues to tackle on your homepage
- Which phrases to use in headlines
- Sentence length and structure
- The vocabulary prospects use when they think and speak
- How they want to be spoken to
- …and possibly even ideas for new services
Is this more important than ‘brand voice’?
No – the two should go hand in hand. Your brand voice should be distinctive, but not totally alien to your customer. So, weaving elements of customer voice into your brand voice should be a winner.
Part 1 – discovering customer voice
OK, so the primary and most direct method of getting a handle on customer voice (and priorities, concerns, issues, problems, delight, etc.) is by interviewing them. Good old face-to-face contact or speaking on the phone with actual customers.
Ask questions designed to get the information you want and have a recording device ready. Then get someone to transcribe.
However, this isn’t for everyone, or might not be possible. Many people, me included, carry insecurities around direct interviews (although it’s good to simply bite the bullet). Sometimes, customers simply aren’t willing to comment. Or you might find that you’re pressed for time and budget and simply can’t justify the resources to set interviews up.
So, in cases like these, you’ll want to consider alternatives. There are two other ways to explore customer voice, one relatively direct and the other quite indirect. We’re talking about online research and personas. Here’s a brief look at both of them.
Easy and complex at the same time, researching customer voice online can sometimes feel like going down a rabbit hole. Beware of spending ours going too deep or allowing yourself to be distracted by tangents (unless they’re revealing a new aspect of the product neither you nor your client had noticed before!)
There are a few great places to see what your customers are saying about your business – either what you’re supplying specifically or your industry/sector as a whole.
Remember to look particularly for quotes relating to how customers felt (either before or after), what problems they faced, the experience they had and what delighted them about the end result.
Here are the sources I have found most useful:
Usually a goldmine for direct responses straight from the customer’s head. Yes, there may be a few fake reviews there, but on the whole you can spot these easily because they are written just that little bit too formally. If in doubt, look for patterns. You’ll see what thoughts crop up most and sort from the wheat from the chaff.
Obviously similar to Amazon, this can be a great source of user-generated content specifically about your business and other services/products/organisations like yours.
Obviously longer-form, but threads about your sector or kind of product will reveal a lot of deeply-held beliefs and opinions. You might get a lot of background or context from individual people’s lives that you hadn’t realised, especially in responses.
Similar to Reddit, especially in the diversity of opinions you’ll see in responses. But the main thing you’ll gain from this will be which are the most pressing questions people face around your industry.
Not as relevant for specific products or services, but definitely a rich seam of experience and opinion when it comes to shared activities. If you’re involved with or writing for gyms, types of workout, sports, hobbies, social causes, business networking, artists, venues, theatres, venues and local interest groups, then the chat within these groups can be valuable to you.
This one is easy. Type in your keyword or subject matter to see a list of where posts on your topic are being shared and discussed most often, with figures given for the level of engagement across a spread of social media platforms. Then you can click through on the most popular – which could be a YouTube video to a blog article – and check the feedback thread for what people are saying.
Simply an easy way to see what courses have been created on any given topic, and then see the reviews. Student feedback will give a great guide to what they enjoyed but also what they found lacking – something you can tackle on your website, or even in tweaks to your own services. Another tip for using Udemy: check out a popular course on your subject and use the course module headings as a structure guide for an in-depth blog post.
OK, so this isn’t strictly online, but if your client is able to grant you access to their chat records (if they have that facility on their site or Facebook page), then this is also a fantastic source of direct customer voice. It’ll be actual questions, problems and concerns that their real customers send them, and so should be addressed in website copy.
There are probably whole courses on how to generate and use personas, so please forgive the rather basic approach I take here.
This is done with your ideal client or customer in mind. The type of person that you rely on for maybe 80% of your income. The ones that give you the most joy, value and profit.
Sit down, get a sheet of paper and give this typical person a name. Then go from there in outlining their traits, situation, hopes, problems, needs, desires, etc.
When going over this with clients I usually cover:
- Where they live
- Personality style
- Spare time activities
- Business activities
- What’s in their heart and mind
- Good about them
- Bad about them
- What they might not want us to know
- What does date night look like?
- Worst case scenario (relating to your service)
- Ideal result and what it means
It usually ends up with a sheet of paper like this (stick figure always included):
As well as giving you a solid guide as to who you want to have in mind when writing your content and copy (which you should always have), the persona sheet usually throws up phrases that you will find useful to use. These will mostly be around their problems, issues and desires, as well as the vision for how they want things to be (which is hopefully what you provide).
If you’d done all of the above, then great! You’ll already be ahead of the game and have a thorough understanding of your users. Now, next…
Part 2 – using customer voice
By this point, you’ll have a lot of material (hopefully!) relating to how customers feel about and experience your product or service. This will be in the form of words and phrases about their concerns, problems, opinions, satisfaction and more.
The first thing to do is to sort it all out. And the most useful way to sort it all out is to enter the material into a table with columns that relate to five key stages in the user experience.
I think I first heard these from the excellent website copy consultant Gill Andrews, but they may also exist elsewhere – I can’t claim originality on this point. The stages are:
- Status before – This can include the emotions they’re feeling as well as the problem itself.
- Need – A solution, usually framed in terms of their problem. ‘A way to…’, ‘Help with…’, etc.
- Reservations – What they expect could go wrong, or why it might be right for them. Objections.
- Experience – What happened when they used your product or service.
- Status after – How their life is better, what their day now looks like, how they feel and possibly how other people see them.
You’ll want to touch on each of these stages at the appropriate points in your web pages.
Once entered, the table usually looks like this (you might have more phrases, or less, depending on what you found during research):
The above was for a financial advisor. Not many people went in-depth into their initial problems or needs, but then I only used the reviews-style sources. It looked like I’d found enough, and the client had stories of their own to draw on.
Putting it into practice
Looking at the language used, where to use customer phrases and voice might be self-explanatory.
As you write the copy for your website homepage, service pages, case studies, portfolio, blog posts and even the contact page, you’ll be going through the stages of your customer’s journey. You’ll be thinking how they feel as they arrive at your site, what’s on their mind, the questions they want answered and what information they need to see to feel they’re in the right place.
You’ll be able to inject elements derived from real pain points that they are experiencing, paint a clear picture of an ideal outcome they’ll recognise and counter any objections they might have before they are able to consider them.
In other words, create a compelling, high-converting website that leads users to the outcome that both you and they need.
How exactly that looks will depend on the page structures you use for your site. But you can use customer voice (often lifting phrases directly) for headlines, sub-headings, bullet points, value propositions, quotes within body copy and more.
While brand voice will be your style, customer voice can provide the substance.
Good luck with everything!