James Walker: What we’ve got here is failure to communicate…

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A couple of weeks ago, my Resolver newsletter prompted one of the biggest responses we’d ever had. Was it a controversial subject? Had I mentioned something that got everyone talking? Nope. I used an emoji. Just one. But that was enough to prompt a huge response!

Opinion was divided. Many users sent me emoji-laden messages in support. Others felt that the inescapable text language was more evidence of dumbing down, or represented a step too far away from the English language.

No matter whether this is making you LOL or want to write a strongly worded letter, the way we communicate with people is incredibly important – and everyone’s opinion matters. This is particularly important if you’re trying to stand up for your rights or make a complaint.

For many people, making a complaint is a serious, formal act. Of course, many complaints involve distressing situations, so it’s vital that businesses are sensitive to the needs of each person who gets in touch. But it’s hard to find a form of communicating that works for everyone.

But even writing someone’s name can be loaded with difficulties. A good example of this can be found in the titles we use to describe ourselves. I spoke to one woman recently who was upset that she’d been asked on a form for her partner’s name. “I don’t have a partner,” she told me. “I have a husband.” For her, it was political correctness forcing itself on a title that defined her. On the other hand, I’ve listened to both transgender women and women with deep voices talk about the insulting comments they’ve had about their titles from call centre staff who don’t accept their gender or fail them during security checks.

And it’s not just language and terms that cause problems. There’s a real push by many businesses to move into new technology – texting information, or providing social media updates or interactive apps, with more to come. I love technology – but it isn’t for everyone. So it’s vital that we all continue to offer a range of ways for people to speak to us and ask for help. And nothing beats chatting to a human.

Huge numbers of the people I speak to tell me that they don’t think their language skills or legal/specialist knowledge is strong enough to beat a big business at their own game. Others tell me they don’t feel that they’re clever enough or are able to express how they feel in a way that makes sense. So finding ways to help people express themselves in a way that makes them feel good is more important than you might think.

On our free complaint app we ask users throughout the process how they feel by asking them to click on a range of faces showing emotions so we can get a feel for how satisfied (or not) they are with us. There’s loads of research behind why people respond to these emotional faces that runs deep, and there’s evidence they help people with autism and Asperger’s too.

Ultimately, if we want to get a complaint sorted out in a way that makes us happy, we need to tell businesses how we feel so they understand the impact. So if you want to make a point, do it however you feel works for you – send it in a letter or tweet an unhappy face emoji. It doesn’t matter. If they’re listening properly, they’ll understand.