Support Breakfast Podcast | Episode 9 – Use your words!

We’re still missing Conor, who was boarding a flight back to London as we recorded. We’re excited to have him back for the next episode!

The topic for this episode is the power of language, and how words, phrases and tone can be help or hurt your message. Enjoy!

Before we tackled this meatiest of meaty topics, what did this mostly vegetarian group have for breakfast?

Kiwi Sarah mixed things up today and had pancakes, not porridge! Dave had some sugary childhood cereal, Nomad Sarah had granola with yoghurt and honey. Lisa had a pain au chocolat – home-baked and still warm,  she wins this week.

We get almost as excited about breakfast as we do about support, so don’t be surprised if one week we just talk about granola and pastry and porridge recipes! (Savoury porridge is totally a thing you know.)

What’s in the mailbag this week? Side note – anyone remember the 90s UK kids show with La Sac Magique?

As it happens, we’ve been putting things in mailbags this week, and posting Support Breakfast stickers off around the globe! Want some? Hit us up at!

Other very exciting news – Lisa will be speaking at Supconf in March! She’s talking about building a community within support, even (or especially) if the word “networking” gives you chills.

Guess what! We have over 100 followers on Twitter! We’re feeling pretty self-congratulatory and pleased with ourselves this week!

We like to share our real life support experiences, and this week Nomad Sarah, who is currently at a ski resort, needed some extra base layers. She got an order in with the wonderful folks over at – and they went above and beyond to get her delivery straightened out when things went wonky.

When it comes to the delivery part of the process, things can get messy, and Kiwi Sarah is loving how on top of things Huel are with delivery, offering practical timeslots and great tracking options. She also shares an experience delivering support, and tells us about an interaction with a long term user responding unhappily to an automated email notification about pricing changes. Through the ensuing conversation, Sarah got great feedback about the product, was able to highlight some super valuable features the customer wasn’t yet utilising, and make a pricing adjustment that reflected the customers loyalty. Customer emails are very often opportunities to enhance and deepen the relationship, even when (and sometimes especially when!) they don’t start so great.

So – on to the topic of the week!

Nomad Sarah guides us through a very broad and rich subject, starting with a really interesting one: Do the companies we work for have tone guides?

Kiwi Sarah – Timely has a lexicon. Support agents are encouraged to use their own personality rather than a company wide ‘brand voice’.

Lisa shares that while Moz has tone guides, individuals are also free to use their own style and not policed as such. There are channel specific tone guides for Intercom and social, and product-specific guides too.

We’d love to share some resources about voice and tone guides!

Dave shares that at Buffer, as well as having a tone guide, has a way of flagging customers who prefer formal and business-like communication, so they can respond in the way the customer prefers.

Kiwi Sarah tells us how at Timely, identifying customer personas helps plan an appropriate response and this is added to the customer notes.

Nomad Sarah did some analysis on the effect of certain words on customer satisfaction. Using the word hope statistically reduces satisfaction! We dig into this and some other words we try to avoid, discussing the effect of those words on the way a customer might feel reading them.

When is it better to respond on behalf of the company you represent, or more personally? Dave has been reflecting on how this could affect alignment and ownership from a customer’s point of view.

We couldn’t not take a minute to highlight these horrors:

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused!”

and of course

“I’m sorry you feel that way”

Cue support professionals everywhere cringing.

Kiwi Sarah’s top tip – using ‘we’ to align with the customer when there are steps to work through, getting across the message that we’re with you and we’ll see this through.

Companies with a great tone? Kiwi Sarah is a big fan of HelpScout’s communication style.

Nomad Sarah discusses the process of adjusting Kayako’s shift in tone when the company had a major refocus last year.

Lisa shared some love for Big Green Bookshop – a London bookshop whose Twitter ‘voice’ is on point. On that topic, Dave loved on the SupportOps podcast and their (slightly sweary) episode this week on defining the boundaries when it comes to brands being sassy on social.

How do we avoid jargon?

Kiwi Sarah’s top tip: if possible and appropriate, mirror the customer’s terminology rather than correct them.

At Moz, saved replies are reviewed to make sure they’re jargon free.

Buffer’s engineers jump into the inbox and help out occasionally, and write some really neat emails. Dave has his proud face on.

Lisa recommends Amy Harrison’s talk on jargon at SearchLove. She was talking about it in the context of marketing but it’s also relevant for support. (Slides here)

She specifically talked about internal and external language. Are you actually representing the value of your tools for your customer, or are you just copying the language of the industry?

Kiwi Sarah’s advice – read your response out loud! It really helps. Nomad Sarah highlighted how thinking and speaking uses different parts of the brain, and Dave noticed how often the process formulating a technical question for an engineer can somehow trigger the answer. It turns out discussing a problem ‘out loud’ is a thing! It’s called rubber ducking and it’s amazing! Here’s how it works. (Hang on! Where’s the rubber duck emoji?!)

Wrap up question! How can we improve?

Dave – at Buffer we often use one of our weekly team syncs to dissect a conversation and dive into the language, tone, emotions and empathy of the message. This really helps get different perspectives.

Kiwi Sarah – Read! Extend your vocabulary and language skills.


  • Dave is going to spend some time with remoteduck
  • Kiwi Sarah invites you to listen to the Nerdette podcast, most recent episode features an interview with Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures
  • Lisa has some action steps for those of us feeling that the world’s gone crazy. There are ways to not feel powerless. Sign a petition, donate, volunteer, write to your political representative.

Have a topic you’d like to hear us get into? An awesome cat gif? (Puppy gifs also welcome!) Email us

Follow us on Twitter @supportbrekkie or individually at @gentlethorns,  @conorp, @sarahleyh, @davechapman & @sarahleeyoga

Have a great week!

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