What does your corporate voice say about you?

Every business, like every person, has a tone of voice. It can vary depending on circumstances, just like being in a bad mood can put an edge in your voice, whether you intend it to be there or not.

Unfortunately, unlike a teenager throwing a wobbly, a business won’t be easily forgiven for getting stroppy with a customer.

Times have moved on from ‘Annoyed of Craven Arms’ pulling out the green biro to share their discombobulation with the weekly paper and its audience. Now it’s instant opprobrium courtesy of social media channels that you need to fear.

It never ceases to amaze me what staff and even owners and managers believe they can get away with when communicating with audiences. The phrase “the customer is always right” might not actually be true, but surely it should be the starting point?

Let them think they’re right, then delicately and skilfully move them to your position – but whatever you do, don’t insult them.

You can’t speak for every individual in your business, or write every email in your own personal, impossible-to-misinterpret style. Instead, the tone of the business needs to be set, to be laid down in no uncertain terms.

Then it has to be monitored and transgressions picked-up. It has to be reinforced, practised by everyone from senior management down and defined into the daily working practice.

Those that do it well are businesses which have their public perception nailed and work hard to maintain such a valuable asset.

It doesn’t take long for that reputation to begin eroding away though, especially with an itchy Twitter finger around every corner… I stood in a well-known supermarket recently and heard a manager berate a member of staff in pretty strong terms, right there in the aisle. At its simplest, that’s a poor manager demonstrating awful leadership and a lack of awareness. But as customers, we extrapolate that into a new view of the wider management ethos.

Maybe it’s not the smiley, happy organisation portrayed in the multi-million pound adverts? That’s instant reputational damage which is incredibly hard to fix (it could also be the next YouTube buzz…).

When you’re paying attention you find examples of this everywhere. The causes, of course, are many-fold, but if you own a business, try to sit back and listen to your corporate tone of voice occasionally.

You might be pleasantly surprised – or you might feel the urge to reach for the green ink.

Mark headshot

– Mark Waugh is Managing Director of Shropshire-based Be Bold Media, which specialises in all aspects of business communications, working with organisations varying from PLCs to SMEs. An award-winning journalist, he’s been a corporate communications specialist for more than a decade.  


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