“You Talkin’ to Me?”

In delivering this one line, Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, played by Robert DeNiro in the 1976 film classic, spoke for frustrated readers of corporate content everywhere.


With an increase in the role written communications continues to play, especially in online forms, customers are reading what we have to say with an even more critical eye.  As a result, front-line service reps and marketing/sales staff will need to work just as hard to communicate with humility and credibility on the digital page as they do in person.


Where we can more easily focus on empathy in face-to-face conversations, our written materials can come across as being all about us.


Here’s an example:  On a recent website audit, we came across this statement…

“ABC landscape is a team of professionals adding value to the customer across XYZ state.”


There are a couple of things wrong with this.  One, never call a customer “the”.  People generally don’t like being talked about, they like being talked to.  Second, it’s boring.  Writing to a faceless crowd makes your copy sound like a soapbox.


Here’s how you can write your way to better customer service:

  1. Ditch the passive voice. Instead of “Our customers are loved by us,” write, “We love our customers.”
  2. Eliminate windy paragraphs and dense text. Give your readers time to breathe; it’s the pause between the notes that make the music.
  3. It’s ok to use contractions like “they’ll” and “don’t” because these sound more natural and conversational, which is the goal.
  4. Read your copy aloud. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
  5. Count the times you’ve used “I, we, me” and “us.” Then count how often you’ve used the word “you.” If there are more “I’s” than “you’s”, rewrite it.
  6. Include questions. The best conversationalists ask questions.  Questions make your reader slow down and think.
  7. No exclamation marks or emojis, unless emoticons and punctuation elements are part of your brand or strategically appropriate social media features.
  8. Include a helpful hint. Add something timely and relevant to your home page and push it out on social media.
  9. Use data carefully and always vet the numbers. If you need to illustrate a point with data, use an infographic instead. Avoid industry jargon. Define terms your readers may not understand.
  10. Make your copy conversational and actionable. Use anecdotes that explain complex technical concepts with relatable examples.


Shifting your written content to a conversation acknowledges that there’s another person involved.  And that person, your reader has a boredom threshold.


Warren Buffet, in his preface to the SEC’s Plain English Handbook, said this: “Write with a specific person in mind.”  Write like you’re talking to a good friend, as if that friend could interrupt you at any time to ask questions.  Anticipate their questions and write proactively to address what they could ask.


All any of us really needs to know about engaging customers and readers alike comes from a back-in-the-day guy who can still teach us a thing or two about the art of communication:


“Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.”

–William Shakespeare.



Image:  Taxi Driver, 1976. Directed by Marin Scorsese.







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