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How to Write for Your Audience(s)

How to Write for Your Audience(s)

/ Operations, People
How to Write for Your Audience(s)

Tips for communicating successfully with both executives and agents.

For contact center managers, “workplace writing” is never just one thing. Some days, you’re writing a high-stakes budget proposal to senior managers. Other days, you’re writing short, personalized motivational emails to overworked frontline customer service agents.

It’s not enough to be just one type of competent writer. You need to be versatile. You must have the writing chops to change your writing strategies each time your audience changes.

Anticipate and Answer Your Reader’s Questions

No matter who your audience may be, all good workplace writing comes from thinking about your readers, anticipating the questions they’ll have on your topic, and answering those questions.

..."workplace writing" is never just one thing...you must have the writing chops to change your writing strategies...

This “think about your reader’s questions” isn’t some philosophical theory or a writing technique you should try on that rare occasion when you have lots of extra time for a writing task.

No, I’m suggesting this technique as the literal first step in your writing process.

So, before you begin brainstorming, drafting, or outlining, make a list of your reader’s questions on the topic.

Let’s say you’re sitting down to draft a proposal that you’ll submit to the VP of Human Resources in which you suggest a new remote work policy for your contact center team. The team has been hybrid for two years, but you’re proposing that agents with at least three years of experience should be fully remote.

This writing tip—anticipate and answer your reader’s questions—is the best tip for writing to customer service agents too.

With your VP of HR reader in your mind, you might jot down these questions:

  • Why should we allow experienced agents to be fully remote?
  • Will allowing experienced agents to be fully remote cost or save the company money?
  • Once an agent has become remote, will the policy allow us to pull them back into the office or ask them to go hybrid?
  • What bad things might happen if we don’t allow experienced agents to be fully remote?
  • How will you manage the fully remote agents differently than the hybrid agents?
  • Will the fully remote agents have a different compensation plan than the hybrid agents?

Writing these questions down helps you keep your reader at the front of your mind. It helps you focus on “what will my reader want to know?” more than “what do I want to say?” And you can use this short list of questions as the raw material for an outline, so the effort you’ve put forth never goes to waste.

This writing tip—anticipate and answer your reader’s questions—is the best tip for writing to customer service agents too. They’ll have different questions than a VP of Human Resources, so creating the list of their questions will ensure you’re providing the right kind of information for each reader.

So, let’s imagine you’ve convinced the VP of Human Resources that the new remote work policy is a good idea. Now you need to write an email to your agents explaining the new policy.

Before you start writing, list agents’ questions on the topic:

  • Why is the company allowing experienced agents to be fully remote?
  • Is length of employment the only way an agent can work remotely?
  • Can an agent who’s become remote choose to go back to hybrid?
  • Once an experienced agent has become remote, will the company ever pull them back into the office or ask them to go hybrid?
  • Does being remote present any risks to an agent’s career opportunities, either inside the contact center or outside (promotion to another role within the company)?
  • How will you manage the fully remote agents differently than the hybrid agents?
  • Will the fully remote agents have a different compensation plan than the hybrid agents?

To connect with each type of audience, you’ll need a special set of writing techniques. Here are tips for writing to two groups of readers that differ a lot: senior leaders and customer service agents.

Five Tips for Writing to Senior Leaders

1. Put the bottom line up front. Begin with your main point. A senior leader’s most pressing question is “What do you want me to do?,” so state your recommendation or request at the beginning of anything you write.

Avoid starting the document with a lot of context-setting or background information. While some senior leaders do require context, they prefer to find that type of information later in the document after they have fully understood what you’re asking for or suggesting they do.

2. Write so your information can be forwarded easily. Your senior leader is likely to share your email, proposal, or memo with other decision-makers, so write with that other reader in mind, too.

Instead of writing, “This proposal builds upon our March 2022 proposal…” write, “In this proposal, we request $18,000 for our summer internship program, which is a 10% increase over the budget we requested in March 2022.”

3. Omit detailed background info. You may have gathered a great deal of information or conducted important research before preparing a document for your senior leader to read, but don’t share that background information with your reader.

Avoid taking your reader on the same journey of discovery you went on. You may refer briefly to your research, for example, by writing something like, “I reviewed Bureau of Labor Statistics data on hiring trends in 2022,” but keep the details of your research to yourself.

4. Avoid technical jargon. Your senior manager has more authority than you, but they have less technical knowledge.

Don’t use loads of acronyms or technical terms when you write to them, even if you write out the full form before using the acronym or define your many terms in a glossary. They trust that you have the knowledge, so you don’t have to use fancy words to demonstrate that you have it. Instead, use plain language substitutes they can easily understand.

5. Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Errors, especially those a spellcheck or grammar check would have caught, are simply embarrassing. Many senior leaders have subordinates who check their writing for correctness, but they won’t be understanding when your writing contains bloopers.

Don’t bring your competence into question with a should-have-known-better error like writing their when you should have written there. Proofread your work carefully, use software like Grammarly to proofread your work, and ask an eagle-eyed colleague to check it over before you send it on.

Five Tips for Writing to Customer Service Agents

1. Use a tone that builds rapport. Show your agents that you care about them by using words that demonstrate you care. Use personal pronouns such as I, you, and we. Drop the occasional question into an email, which will give it a conversational quality.

Use feeling words to prevent misinterpretation. For example, don’t write this: “I listened to your recorded call with Phillip, the extremely angry customer who was complaining about our refund policy. I knew you could talk him down and you did!”

Instead, include a word that identifies what you are feeling, like this: “I listened to your recorded call with Phillip, the extremely angry customer who was complaining about our refund policy. I’m impressed, yet again! You’re so good at expressing empathy and helping people calm down. Great work!”

Use a tone that builds rapport. Show your agents that you care about them by using words that demonstrate you care.

2. Give clear instructions. Number the steps in a set of instructions when the steps must be completed in sequence. Begin each step with a verb, such as “Click,” “Confirm,” “Upload,” etc.

Know when to use screenshots (with markup) instead of or in addition to words. So much of a customer service agent’s job depends on knowing which steps to take. Writing clear instructions is the least managers can do!

3. Link to other sources of information. Agents must often pull from several sources of information—a knowledge base, the company website, a customer database, the intranet, documentation, etc.—so help them out by linking to useful information when you email or message them.

With hyperlinks or attachments, you can do some of the work of knitting these numerous information sources together for agents. It’s a great kindness.

4. Make your writing scannable. Use headings and bulleted lists, so agents can see the sections of your document and quickly scan to the part they need most.

When agents are reading at work, they are forever being interrupted by customers’ calls, emails, and chats, so scannable features like headings enable them to easily return to the section they were reading before they took that call.

At work, everyone - a senior leader and an agent alike - scans before actually reading, but few have as fragmented a work day as a customer service agent. Scannable features help agents cope.

5. Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Many agents are somewhat lax about correctness, so you must model clean writing yourself. If your emails to agents are sloppy, it’ll be impossible to convince them that their emails to customers must be error-free.

If you’re not a great speller, that’s OK. Be transparent with your team that spelling is a challenge for you. Let them know the steps you take to check your work before you share it.

These days, it’s perfectly OK to be only kind of good at the nuts-and-bolts of writing, but you must be 100% committed to using software to check your work. You may make errors in your drafts, but you should never share writing that still has errors in it.


Finally, as a contact center manager, do you need to be “multi-lingual”? Well, yes, kind of. You need to write fluent C-level executive, but you must also be a native writer of customer service rep and team lead. If you focus on understanding your readers’ questions before you write anything, your writing process will be efficient: and your documents and emails will succeed.

Leslie O’Flahavan

Leslie O’Flahavan

E-WRITE's Leslie O'Flahavan helps people write well to customers. She delivers customized training for frontline agents, social media managers, and contact center leaders. She is a problem-solver for all written channels: email, chat, text and social. Leslie is a LinkedIn Learning author of five customer service writing courses. Connect with Leslie on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.

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