‘Pay your rent or social services will take your children away’!
This is the message delivered in a letter sent out recently by Knowsley Housing Trust. What an utterly brilliant example of careless and ill-considered communication. With no empathy for the recipient or their circumstances.
Having worked for a housing association for 13 years, I know how much effort is placed on developing and protecting the brand image of the business.
“We are a social business…”
“We focus on our customers…”
“We put our residents at the heart of everything we do…”
And then some idiot comes along and sends out a piece of writing like this. Unfortunately, this is not likely to be a one-off. In all probability, this is a standard letter. A template, which gets pulled up as part of a process. The person has signed it without even really thinking about the impact it will have.
Well this one has certainly caused a stir! And Knowsley Housing Trust’s reputation is certainly taking a battering through the number of social media shares, likes (or dislikes), posts and retweets.
So what can housing associations do to avoid this happening to them?
1. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes.
This is absolutely the most important thing. If you want your reader to think, feel or do something, you have to connect with them. Picture them when you’re writing. Talk in their language. Don’t talk down to them and don’t shock them. If you know them, are there any circumstances you should be aware of that may affect how they respond to your communication?
2. Make sure that any standard letters and documents are tested for clarity and message by the intended audience.
If you can, ask the type of people you are writing to, to look over your document. Perhaps you have a customer focus group or consumer panel? Do they understand the main points? Is the language too difficult? Is there any jargon they don’t understand? Do they understand what you are asking of them?
2. Roll out some basic writing skills training for your staff.
Not everyone is a good writer, but they can learn. And anyone who writes as part of their job, whether its letters, emails, reports, marketing copy or social media, will benefit from brushing up on the essentials – grammar, punctuation, planning and structure techniques and common mistakes to avoid. You can also use this as an opportunity to promote your brand style and tone of voice too.
3. Put in place a method of proof-checking for all out-going communications.
No matter how busy you are, or how quickly you need to send out your communication, it is vital that, before you let it go, you check it, check it and check it again. And, I don’t just mean use the PC spell checker.
Poorly written stuff can be costly, for your business reputation as well as your budget. So get someone else to read it – a fresh pair of eyes may interpret things differently to how you meant them. Identify someone who has an eye for detail and pay particular attention to names, numbers, calls to action and web links in online material.
With thanks to Joe Halewood for bringing this letter to everyone’s attention. Read his article.