Here’s how the wrong tone of voice is hurting your website

We should all take a critical listen to the tone of voice on our websites. It can convert a visitor into a lead just as easily as it can chase them away.
by Ted Taylor
This post was also published in the Barbados Business Authority Nov. 13. 2017

Recently, when the new school term opened something went horribly wrong in our house. It was the first day of school, and of all the days in the year, Carol Roberts was on vacation. All bets were off.

Let me explain. Like many households, our radio is a metronome. We hear headlines at the top of the hour, weather at a quarter past, news on the half-hour and various other segments pop up in between. One good thing about all of this is that I don’t need to understand everything I hear on the radio. I can tell what time it is by the jingle of the company sponsoring a segment, or from the tone of the announcer’s voice.

Taken in this context, if I hear a strange voice between 7:00 and 7:05 then it’s probably the call-in segment for some free talk time on a mobile network and my 9-year-old had better be fully dressed with her bags packed.

Losing Carol for a week, got me thinking about how some of what is said on some websites fails to get picked up. The guy who was standing in for Carol is an excellent radio host and announcer, but that morning he was not helping our effort to be on the road by 7:30. In fact, he was a distraction. I found myself paying attention to virtually everything he was saying; it was like getting a play by play commentary. I got so distracted by his presentation that folding my daughter’s chicken wrap became a lot harder than it had to be.

By contrast, I tend to think of Carol as a house guest; she sits at the dining room table chatting away while I fix breakfast and pack lunch boxes.

A lot of the time what companies post on their website is quite frankly a waste of time. It either frustrates visitors with its banality or it oversimplifies a pain point so much that there is no substance to the claims. That is definitely a false dichotomy but I hope you get the point.
The text usually falls into one of three categories. It is far too technical and inwardly focused which means it is almost immediately bypassed; it is factual and concise but gives no real impression of what kind of culture and user interactions to expect and finally, it is can be informal and friendly but offers no real proof that the company can do what it claims.

Take these three examples: “We are industry leaders because our internationally trained representatives apply cutting-edge technology with laser-like precision to even your most minuscule concern.” After a few brain cells leak out through your ears you’re left struggling to figure out why this company thinks one of your main concerns is how much they spend on equipment and training.

“We currently provide support for 35 percent of the local market and are constantly upgrading our resources to deliver an international quality of service.” While this statement may be factual, you don’t get a very good read on what it will be like to deal this company. For all you know, they may just be anal retentive enough to drive your sales team mad 48 hours into your 30-day consultation.

“Once we get started you won’t go anywhere else.”; this projects a confident contractor, but most us would like to get some proof.

Now on a real website, there would be a lot more going on that would give these examples context. The point I’m trying to make is that how your company speaks to site visitors sets their expectations for the service you will deliver, but it also sells your company’s personality.

It’s not like dating in the good ole days when it took weeks to get to know what the other person was like. These days, those of us who are still dating, are comfortable and confident enough in ourselves that we let our basic disposition shine through from the first interaction. Similarly, wouldn’t it be great if the first feeling site visitors got was that your company is a little quirky but very service focused. Wouldn’t it also be great for them to get that without having to exchange four emails and three phone calls?

Tone of voice isn’t easy, it needs to be relevant to your industry and market and, very importantly, it needs to be consistent. You want to convey confidence in your skills as well as what it’s like to work with you and your team. You want to sell your technical expertise and your bedside manner. Mixed metaphors aside, these are two potentially conflicting qualities, so approach it with care and with an open mind.

Carol Roberts was back at work the next week and my mornings are going a little more smoothly, but in the meantime, we should all take a critical listen to the tone of voice on your websites.