You’re human. Make sure you don’t forget it.

“The thing I really like about you,” said a client recently, “is that you give it to me with both barrels.” A back-handed compliment, or a genuine vote of praise? I wasn’t sure, so I silently winced and left a little pause for him to continue. “You’d be surprised how unusual that is these days,” he said. “Most people dress the truth up in jargon and buzzwords, as if they’re trying to impress. Or worse, trying not to offend me. If it’s the truth, I want to know it.” So a compliment then. I’m not innately more truthful than the next person. It’s just that I have an aversion to corpspeak, double-talk and beating around the bush. Sometimes, I have to admit, it gets me into trouble. But mostly, the reaction is positive. ‘Giving it with both barrels’ may be an extreme way of putting it, but it gets the idea across. Here it is, you’re saying. Make of it what you will. And more importantly, make of me what you will. Because everything we do sends out a signal. And slashing through the undergrowth of double-talk keeps it real. And makes it more human.

Up close and personal

In these days of mass communication, one smallish-but-growing company I know sends out sales letters using Courier, to mimic the font of typewritten letters. They also sign the letters by hand. Not a scanned signature sneakily printed in blue, or green, or anything but black, so it appears real. This one is real. But they don’t stop there. They sales manager writes the salutation (‘Dear Mrs Jones…’) by hand too. Now you can’t do this if you have huge volumes or dodgy handwriting. But in this case, the sales manager does  a small batch every day, and they’re sent out at the end of the week.  As my grandmother used to say, ‘every little mickle makes a muckle’ (translation: it all adds up). And he writes beautiful, old-fashioned cursive script, which adds a touch of class. So the company is playing to its strengths (and penmanship), and immediately setting itself apart from the competition. The response has been impressive. Conversion has gone up, customer satisfaction has jumped, and the perception of the company has changed. As the company grows, the volume will at some point get too much, and the quaint old handwritten letters will have to be dropped. But for now, it’s manageable. And it’s a winning idea.

The real deal

There’s no replacing the human touch. People like people, and we’re all essentially sociable. So trade on that, and do everything you can to humanise the face of  your company. Here are some simple things you can try:
  • Include real photos of you and your staff on your website, preferably smiling.
  • Don’t hide behind grand-sounding phrases or business-speak. Strive to sound positive and upbeat, so that you connect with people.
  • Don’t use catch-all email addresses (response@, info@, enquiry@) which always conjure up images of a bit bucket that’s regularly emptied into the ether without so much as a second thought.
  • Empower people (or yourself). A few years ago, a client of mine gave their staff carte blanche to sort customer problems out, whatever the cost. If it’s broken, fix it, they said. No need to get clearance first. They braced themselves for a spike in costs. But it never came.  Instead, their staff took the initiative, acted responsibly and just did it. The results? Lower costs and happier customers. Counter-intuitive but true.
  • Start a blog, and choose a tone that’s deliberately different to the rest of your site copy: more informal, less corporate, more relaxed. Show people that you’re real.


Like I said, people like people. And human contact makes a difference. In these days of social networking where it’s not unusual to have 600 ‘friends’, cyberspace can be a lonely place. Peeling back the layers and getting to a real person isn’t always easy. So make it easy. Like GetHuman does. It’s a great little site that allows you to bypass the endless telephone menu systems, so you can…well, get to a human (the clue’s in the name). So what can you do today? Change that response form? Reword that auto-responder email? Make your voicemail welcome message sound less like you’re being held hostage by Colombian drug lords and reading from a script? Whatever it is, do it now and watch the magic. Just let rip. With both barrels if you have to. Find out more:
  • People power: escape the menu maze and find a real live person at
  • Mind your language:  buzzwords galore at Web Economy bull***t generator. It’s funny and tragic at the same time. And if you recognise the generated phrases from your own copy, best reach for the red pen.