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The F-word


Written by Peter Vierod, Creative Partner at Friendly, the F-word is a collection of ideas, insights and stories about doing better business through better business writing. Subscribe and we'll deliver the occasional nugget to your inbox. 

Anchor 1

May 2018


Personalised video: 10 ways to "wow!"  

Want to turn everyday customer correspondence into

compelling content?  




Make the message a video. Then give each customer a

starring role.


That’s personalised video – a format that’s breaking sales,

retention and compliance records in every category.


The Friendly persuaders have just created Velocity Frequent

Flyer’s first personalised customer video. Here are 10 things

we learned along the way…

#1  The words: Your personalised video in the subject line triples open rates


#2  The optimum length for personalised video is around 45 seconds

#3  Personalised video invoices increase on-time payments by up to 98% 


#4  The earlier you personalise, the more of your video people will watch


#5  Every metric can be measured in real time on a campaign dashboard


#6  You can split test offers, voiceovers and creative to evolve effectiveness 


#7  Personalised video is watched 3 times longer than regular video


#8  Keep file sizes under 350kb – buffering loses viewers 


#9  Personalised video delivered by MMS is a great way to engage Millennials


#10  A personalised video campaign costs less than you'd think


A personalised video campaign from just 40c per customer, including dashboard analytics. Learn more.

A personalised video makes your customer the hero of your message

Anchor 2

April 2016


When friendliness goes too far.



In a recent research study* soon to be released by the Customer Service Institute of Australia, customers rated friendliness as the most important factor in defining a ‘good’ customer experience.


But what does friendliness actually mean in employee-customer interactions, and how far can it be taken in writing? 


Last week I found out - and it showed what happens when you cross the line.


I simply wanted to know when my mobile contract was due to expire. I tried calling the phone company, but the promised 15-minute wait soon turned into 20, so I hung up and tried the live chat option.


Here’s an abridged transcription, with un-edited punctuation:


Ronnel: Happy Monday. We appreciate your continued patience waiting

on the line. May I just confirm, you want to know, the contract end date of
your plan, is that right?




Me: Correct


Ronnel: No worries. I can definitely do this one for you. I’ve
gotyour back.



I certainly don’t have a problem with someone wishing me a happy Monday, but I have to say I’d never thought that enquiring about the expiry date of my mobile contract was a particularly hazardous exercise. 


What could possibly happen that required him to have “my back”?  A quick look over my shoulder confirmed there were no hostiles lurking in the office. Perhaps he wanted to protect me from the predations of a competitor while I wandered through the treacherous no-man’s-land that is the expired contract.




More likely he was using the language of action movie buddies in an attempt to establish a warm, manly bond.  


When he eventually gave me the information I’d requested, he did so with a heroic “mate it’s the least I can do”, suggesting that if he’d been with me in person we’d have cracked open a couple of coldies, wiped the sweat from our brows and laughed at how we’d cheated death yet again.


Friendliness in customer service should never mean friendship.  There is a

line – often a fine one – and it can’t be crossed. 


Being conversational? Definitely!


Engaging? Absolutely! 


Enthusiastic? Great!


Come over and watch a movie together? Back off buddy!


Being overly friendly is as bad as being excessively formal, perhaps more so. After all, we’ve come to expect an element of formality from certain industries and institutions – particularly financial ones. It’s part of their dna. 


But when a phone company writes like it’s trying to be your best friend…perleeeeeeese!


* Source: CSIA / E.Y. Sweeney

I want friendly service, not a new friend 

Anchor 3

December 2015


Nudge, nudge.



If behavioural science is such a groundbreaking field, why do I get this strong sense of déjà vu whenever I read about behavioural ‘nudges’ such as choice architecture and social proof?  It’s probably because I grew up with the same principles, only I knew them as common sense direct marketing.


The fact is, many of behavioural science’s cornerstone principles were established long before the likes of Richard Thaler and Daniel Kahneman did their PhDs - not in human research laboratories, but in the findings of direct response advertising pioneers like John Caples and Claude Hopkins. Their scientific testing of different appeals established many key influences on buying behaviour - consistency,  authority, and reciprocity, to name a few - nearly a century ago.


There’s also a striking similarity between behavioural science principles and what‘s usually known as ‘marketing intuition’. In the recent past, without consciously doing so, we used what behavioural scientists call ‘framing’ to very good effect for a health fund client, who’d briefed us to write their annual rate rise communications. Other than making things simpler and clearer, we explained that every other health fund member in Australia would be receiving a similar increase. In doing so we contextualised the price rise and deflected its impact.  This led to a huge drop in the volume of incoming calls from irate members, and a big reduction in the number of call centre staff needed to take those calls


The client estimated they’d save around $2 million over a two-year period. The key paragraph contained just 45 words, which (after our modest fee) equated to a contribution of $44,000 per word to their bottom line.


Now that’s what you call a nudge.


If you’re interested in influencing customer behaviour, the words in your customer correspondence are a good place to start. Whether you’re informing, explaining, instructing or enforcing, words can have a massive impact on customer compliance and the cost of doing business. Because of the volumes involved, it’s also an ideal test and learn environment.


By applying the techniques of persuasion you can nudge customers to pay on time, migrate to digital services, take a greater interest in their health, put more away for retirement – the opportunities are endless.


In the UK, for example, under the auspices of the government’s ‘nudge unit’, the principle of social proof is being used by the Inland Revenue to encourage prompt lodgement of tax returns. In correspondence, repeatedly late lodgers are informed that the vast majority of taxpayers in their community lodge on time.  The improvement in compliance has poured tens of millions of extra pounds into public coffers. Essentially, they’re using the same behavioural nudge that persuades people to buy a particular brand of pet food (because 8 out of 10 cats prefer it). 


Similarly, savvy fundraisers have long known that the way choices are presented on donation forms can nudge the value of donations upwards. Yet choice architecture, as behavioural scientists call it, is being hailed as a breakthrough in persuading employees to invest more towards retirement and drivers to opt in as organ donors.


If, like me, you grew up in direct marketing, you’ll also be familiar with the persuasive power of scarcity (limited availability) and consistency bias (free trial).


In fact, even as you read this article, you are being unknowingly influenced by reciprocity (here’s a fascinating blog with our compliments, the least you can do is give us a call).


Consider yourself nudged.

Care for a drop of behavioural change?

Anchor 4

September 2015


Big Data. Why it's the next little thing.


Big Data.


It’s a big issue with big implications for big business and big society.


Big thinkers say it will have a big impact on all our lives and if you doubt them you’re a bigger fool than you look.


But actually, after Big Data has been mined, panned and sifted and its meaningful insights extracted, what you’re left with are little things.


Little things that can make a big difference.


It might be a subtle enhancement to the service you offer certain customers, after the data revealed a previously unknown preference.


Or a small but important gesture that makes promiscuous customers less likely to wander.


And, if you’re really clever, data can guide your hand when you write, helping you choose topics that are more likely to engage people.  Yes, Big Data might be a somewhat tired story in itself, but it can help you choose the most pertinent topics to discuss with your customers and stakeholders.


How? By using science that helps uncover the narratives that matter most to your business. The Friendly persuaders have been having some interesting chats with a business that uses artificial intelligence to identify deep narratives and their key drivers for any category, any topic, in any language, across the entire internet.


And what does that mean for marketers?


Instead of forcing generic or irrelevant content upon people, you can deliver the most powerful story for your category, your product, your brand or your issue to all your different audiences. 


In marketing, the best story wins. By making the conversations you have with your customers even a little bit more interesting than your competitors, you’ll gain a very big advantage.

From big things, little things grow.

Anchor 5

September 2015


How to persuade your people to shed their writing inhibitions.


If you’re introducing a more natural tone of voice into your organisation, you’re bound to encounter objections from people who are used to writing in a certain way – especially to business audiences.


For those schooled in the 'old way', switching to a more conversational style can be an awkward experience.


A common concern is that it sounds unprofessional. After all, if you’re a leader in your field, your writing should have a gravitas that befits your status, shouldn’t it?


Another objection we often hear is that by writing in a more straightforward way, you’re somehow dumbing down the topic.  


Both these objections are symptoms of the same condition: the fear of simplicity.


Writing that is clear, simple and personable leaves the author naked, with their thoughts in full view. This can feel uncomfortable for people who are used to cloaking their prose in the tired gladrags of business verbiage.


In countering these objections, it’s important to stress that you’re not promoting an overly chatty or flippant tone. You’re simply asking them to drop some of the pretentions that make your organisation sound more 1955 than 2015. 


Emphasise that you want them to take a pill, not the whole bottle.


If you’re still left with some objectors, the kinds of people who are impressed with verbosity are often persuaded by quotes from the great figures of history.


And they don’t come much greater than Leonardo da Vinci, who said:


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.


The purpose of writing isn’t to show how big our vocabularies are; it is to communicate our thoughts and ideas in the most direct and persuasive way possible.


Write as you speak.


Use short words and sentences.


Strip away everything that isn’t essential to your message.


Sure, it can make you feel naked in the beginning.


But once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll enjoy a wonderful new intimacy with your readers.

This post was featured in Steve Harrison's latest book 'How to write better copy'. 

Anchor 6

March 2015


Want higher NPS ratings?

Try lowering your OMG factor.


Advocacy is the new nirvana for companies in search of customer satisfaction. 


And to that end, many companies now use specific advocacy marketing tactics. It's all about creating positive experiences that increase a customer's propensity  to recommend a product or service provider. It also encourages customers to give higher scores in net promoter surveys, the KPI governing many executive careers. 


Advocacy marketing is usually a demonstration of gratitude and good intent. Telstra’s recent mailing to customers thanking them for their business and offering free account reviews is a good example. The underlying promise being that if Telstra could find you a more economical plan, they’d switch you over even if it meant a perceived loss of revenue for the telco.


Brands putting customers before profit is undoubtedly a good thing, but doing good things only addresses one aspect of customer experience. 


If brands want to turn customers into advocates, they also have to stop doing things that irritate the hell out of them. 


These are often little things. So little, in fact, that they are frequently overlooked or considered insignificant in the greater scheme of things.


Unnecessarily terse account payment reminders. 


Loyalty messages that reek of insincerity. 


Live chat that’s trying too hard to be friendly.


Voice-activated journeys through hell.


Telstra has done a great job of addressing both the positive and negative aspects of customer experience, but many other large organisations are still riddled with annoyances like these. As well as exposing a lack of authenticity they are highly effective at turning customers into detractors. 


In fact research has shown that customers are twice as likely to share a bad experience than a good one.


So as well as using acts of largesse to turn customers into promoters, organisations that are serious about advocacy might look equally closely at the many small things that turn people against them.

And start doing something about it.

Customers are twice as likely to share their bad experiences.

Anchor 7

February 2015


From Telstra to the Tour de France


We caught up for a coffee the other day with a former client called Paul Kelly. Paul was at Westpac, where for ten years he was their Head of Service Experience and CEO Gail Kelly’s go-to man for customer resolutions.


When we mentioned we were working with Telstra, Paul’s eyes lit up. “Now there’s a brand that’s lifting its game,” he said. “Just lots of little things, but over the last eighteen months Telstra seems to be getting it right.”

We could have kissed him.


Not that we’re claiming all the credit for Telstra’s improving customer satisfaction ratings, of course. We realise that written correspondence is only a part of what  their customers experience.


As Paul said, it’s “lots of little things”.


Doing a lot of little things better is how you make a big difference to your customer experiences.


A nicely written email.  A slightly shorter wait.  A more convenient way to pay. A little recognition. It all adds up to a very noticeable improvement. 


In the past eighteen months we’ve reviewed and re-written close to four thousand individual pieces of customer correspondence for Telstra, and nothing was too small to overlook. Even sms account reminders have been scrutinised and rewritten to make them more representative of the Telstra brand.


It’s an approach that’s also proved effective in professional sport. The phenomenally successful British cycling coach, Dave Brailsford, calls it “the aggregation of marginal gains”, whereby no detail is too small that it can’t be improved, and that enough small improvements can add up to a significant advantage.


With 14 Olympic Gold Medals, two Tour de France wins, and their highest customer satisfaction ratings in years, Dave and Telstra might just be on to something.

Anchor 8

January 2015


Are you an inspirer or an insulter?


Like most things in life, writing to customers can be done sensationally well or incredibly badly. And like most things in business, it can be niftily demonstrated using a pyramid.




The base is a sump of mediocrity, filled with shabbily written, poorly spelled and grammatically atrocious claptrap. It comes from all kinds of organisations, from car dealerships to people who really should know better, like superannuation funds and insurance companies. It informs at a very basic level, but it says even more about the people that wrote and sent it: like, they just don’t care.




The Informing level achieves a basic hygiene standard. There’s nothing essentially wrong with it. It’s just that there’s nothing particularly attractive about it, either. This is the ‘homebrand’ of writing: generic, utilitarian and undifferentiated. It usually begins with the words “As a…” continued by: “…valued member of our health fund” or whatever anodyne description best suits.




It’s where Informative becomes Engaging that things start to get interesting. At this point we begin to see a real human-ness appear as the writing drops its pretentions and speaks directly to the reader, using language that is modern and conversational. We begin to see the telling of brand stories. And it’s also here that we start to see customer insight guiding the content to help deliver unexpected and memorable experiences. This could be as simple as acknowledging a customer’s loyalty, and granting a favour that wasn’t expected, such as a fee waiver.




Engaging become Inspiring when the message itself is a fantastic brand experience. These opportunities don't come along that often, but complaint resolutions are a good place to start looking.


If you can deliver a great experience in a place where it was least expected, the impression you’ll leave will be deep and long lasting. If you can turn a piece of customer correspondence into a story that people will share with friends, then you’ve reached the highest point in the craft of customer writing. 

Anchor 9

November 2014


Is your brand suffering from identity disorder?


When you write to customers, who do they see behind your words?


An engaging and helpful personality they can easily relate to?


Or someone who’s a bit old-fashioned, bureaucratic and stuffy?


Chances are they experience both, depending on the type of message you’re sending and who the writer is.


And that inconsistency creates what the friendly persuader calls ‘brand identity disorder’.


Brand identity disorder happens when you change your tone across different communications. In your marketing messages, for example, your tone of voice might be the personification of easy-going Aussie-ness, but as soon as it comes to discussing an increase in fees on a customer’s account, you become Humphrey from Yes, Minister.


From your customer’s point of view, the warmth and enthusiasm they experienced when they were being wooed is replaced by cool detachment. They think: “You’re not the person I thought you were”. And by person, of course, they mean brand.


You might say: “But it’s only all that computer generated stuff”.


Yes, but if you’re a large financial services organisation, utility or telco, all that computer-generated stuff adds up to an awful lot of brand experience. By our reckoning, it’s as much as 80% of all direct customer contact.


And bear in mind that your customers see their account correspondence as a more genuine experience of your brand and its values than your marketing efforts, because it’s a demonstration of behaviour.


When it comes to brand, everything matters. And nothing matters more than the ongoing conversation you have with your customers through correspondence. If you have a problem with tonal consistency, or you simply want your brand to sound more human and engaging, get in touch with us today. Because the longer it goes on, the more confused your customers will be about who you really are.

You are what you write

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