Communication tips for working in a virtual world
- Insurance can be complex to understand, so it’s important that communication to customers is clear
- In a digitally dominated communication world, we have to be very careful about how we phrase our business communications
- Emojis can help convey more than words can say but should be used appropriately.
Digital communications have been part of our working days for more than two decades. From emails to – in more recent times – productivity tools such as Microsoft Teams and video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, we’ve become well-versed in communicating digitally.
But while the ability to communicate digitally – particularly through the pandemic – has been a saviour for many businesses, it can cause its own problems.
“Communicating in a digital environment is very different from communicating in person,” says QBE’s Head of Marketing David Hirsch.
“In written communications in particular, you don’t have the benefit of tone, intonation or body language to help your brain interpret the message – you’re only left with the words. And it’s very easy to place your own subconscious – or conscious – interpretation on those words.
“Therefore, it’s important that we’re all extra-mindful of how we are communicating with customers and colleagues.”
Can’t talk – busy!
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Caught in the middle of a task and another task jumps to the front of our minds. So, to keep the ball rolling, we fire off a quick email then get back to the task at hand.
There are so many factors that can determine how the instruction we just sent is received.
“In a situation like that, you can’t see the other person, you can’t elaborate on any point if need be, you can’t answer questions, so you need to put yourself in the receiver’s shoes,” says Hirsch.
“You don’t know what they’ve got going on at that moment or how they’ll interpret it, so you might need to remove any ambiguity and soften the way you phrase things. This is something I know I have been guilty of, and always when I’m ‘busy’.”
Using contractions (‘I’ll’ rather than ‘I will’), reiterating rationale or context in the text, and using simple pleasantries (‘Hi Jennifer’, ‘Thanks Louise’) go a long way to softening the language in your emails and removing the harshness of a single-line directive.
Starting your emails with a soft introduction can help too, whether you’re communicating with clients or internally.
- Hope you’re well.
- How was your weekend?
- I hope your day’s going well.
- How’s things?
“Ultimately it’s got to fit your personality, so try different opening lines and see how they fit,” says Hirsch.
Emojis at work: yes or no?
Emojis were working their way into office culture even before the pandemic; the 2019 Adobe Report1 into emoji use found that 61 per cent of emoji users used emojis at work.
And while some workplaces discouraged emoji use then, it’s far more accepted today.
Why? It goes back to the nuanced way that we, as humans, interpret communication.
“Using an emoji or a GIF can relieve some tension in messages,” says Hirsch. “A smile, crossed fingers or humorous image introduces a visual element to the communication – the recipient isn’t just relying on words to understand your meaning.”
Almost all emoji users believe using them shows support and lightens the mood of a message.
Emojis can also aid people’s interaction in video calls. Of course, you don’t want to encourage an emoji-flooded meeting, but used appropriately it can enable people – particularly the more introverted members of the team – to engage.
In the 2021 Adobe Report2 into emoji use, 76 per cent of people agreed that emojis are an important communication tool for creating unity, respect and understanding of one another.
“It’s another method of communicating digitally that can be very useful in the right circumstances, and used sensibly it can be very effective,” says Hirsch.
Keeping it simple in insurance
Insurance is a complex world, so it’s crucial that communication to customers and clients is clear.
“Client communication has no room for ambiguity,” says Hirsch. “So, while retaining a friendly approach, it needs to be clear, devoid of jargon and to the point.”
It’s important from a legal standpoint too that written communication with clients is clear and transparent.
According to Harvard Business Review, it’s important to have a clear idea of the purpose of any business email, report or presentation before you start writing, and then cut to the chase – convey that purpose early.
Other tips include cutting out any jargon and buzzwords, and keeping it simple – if one word will suffice, use it.
“Not everyone is born with a natural ability to write, but you can become better at it with practise,” says Hirsch.
“Read your emails back to yourself before sending, and edit them to make them clear and concise.”
If you need a response from an email, finish with a question. Rather than ‘I’d be interested in your thoughts’, ask ‘What do you think?’ or use the @ email function to identify who you need a response from.
As well as prompting a response when you need one, communicating effectively can influence behaviour in more extreme ways.
Luke Freeman, Behavioural Insights Consultant at QBE elaborates: “The INSPIRE Framework outlines seven of the most important techniques people can use to increase compliance with written requests.”
Implementation intentions – for example, asking customers to write down when they’ll send their policy renewal notice.
Norms – ‘Most customers return this within two weeks.’
Salience – using ‘Sign here’ labels or red ‘Pay now’ stamps reinforce the salience of communications.
Procedural justice – for example, explaining why forms need to be returned.
Incentives – offer a reward for behaviour.
Reputation – for example, sending a letter signed by the CEO.
Ease – ensuring the least-important information is towards the end of the communication.
“By using this framework in your communications, you can prompt people to behave differently,” Freeman adds.
Practice makes perfect
Given the virtual world in which many of us are working now, the ability to communicate clearly, concisely and effectively has never been more important.
It doesn’t necessarily come naturally, but it’s certainly worth getting right. Communicating in a more effective way could be the difference between your colleague having a great day or a terrible one. It could be the difference between landing that huge deal you’ve been working on for months or missing out on it all together.
Ultimately, it matters – a lot.