Tone of voice

Hello. You don’t know me but
you’ve been recommended…

Getting a call from someone who’s heard good things about you is a great way to start a working relationship. That’s how we got to know E.ON. They called when they wanted to put some life back into a tone of voice project that had been slowly grinding to a halt.

Our task was to evaluate the extensive, detailed work they’d commissioned to help them in their transition from Powergen into E.ON – the new, forward-thinking energy company.

In our experience there are two kinds of tone of voice projects that end up at the back of the filing cabinet:

  • Long ones: books full of complicated grammatical points which are impossible to translate into practical techniques
  • Short ones: one or two pages of ‘not like this: like this’ magical transformations with no useful guidelines. Again, impossible to work with.

Bringing tone of voice to life

E.ON’s was one of the long ones. All the thinking had been done, but it had ended up as a vast, dense, overwhelming volume. We interpreted it and worked with the director of brand strategy and communications to reduce it to its essence: three words to describe E.ON’s personality and create a tone of voice that could be adapted depending on who you’re writing or talking to.

We developed workshops for writing and for speaking – lively, productive sessions that didn’t feel like work. They gave everyone who came along a set of language tools that they could go straight back to their desks and use.

Everyone from 17-year-old customer services trainees to experienced engineers changed the way they talked and wrote, getting better at it with practice.

Changing tone, changing culture

We trained around 1000 people, then trained the trainers who spread the tone of voice to another 7000. E.ON told us, ‘The change in our culture is tangible.’

Terms and conditions

What a difference! Now we use our Ts&Cs
as a guide for customers on the phone. I’ll ask them to turn to a particular page in the booklet and know that it clearly explains our process. And because it’s so easy to understand, no one feels like we’re trying to hide things.
E.ON customer services agent during writer training

E.ON asked us for some help with their terms and conditions. It was sorely needed – they had 2000 words setting out their contract with small and medium businesses on a single sheet of A4 paper in 8-point type. Everyone knew it needed some work, but no one was falling over themself to get started…

Starting again from scratch

And that’s where we came in. Working with their product and legal teams, we pulled apart their current terms, found out what was missing and what was irrelevant or unenforceable. We sorted it all into a chronological customer journey, and then started with a blank sheet. Our question to ourselves all the way through was ‘How can these terms be as good as the very best consumer terms and conditions from any industry?

More than words

As well as making sure the language was clear and in the E.ON tone of voice, we wanted the structure and design to work with the words. So our information designers revamped the layout, and we ran a small batch of usability tests with small business owners to find the stumbling blocks. Then we fixed them.
Hard work? Certainly. But it’s made a huge difference to E.ON. Now customers can quickly find answers to specific questions, and no one feels like things are hidden in the small print. In fact, there is no small print.


Afia did more than just train our people – they helped to change our culture. By teaching the benefits of warm, active language, and helping us understand exactly how customers read our letters and emails, they helped us build better relationships, save time and get better responses.
Adrian Merrick, Director, Corporates

When E.ON asked us to help their people write better letters and emails, we knew there wasn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.
It takes a lot of different people to keep a big utility business running smoothly. And although there are many writing skills that everyone can use, someone who specialises in bereavements needs a different approach from one who welcomes new customers.
So we started off by training a few specialist teams in customer services and sales, and the project grew and grew until we’d trained hundreds of people. These guys were experts – knowledgeable, skilled and experienced. Many of them were great writers to start with. So how could we make them even better?


‘You were so friendly and easy to understand’

That was amazing. I’d heard from my colleagues that the course was good, but I didn’t expect it to be so good. Instead of loads of airy-fairy theory you taught us practical stuff that actually helps us do our jobs better.
Workshop participant

We didn’t just train them and leave. We followed up by coaching participants on their writing over the phone to give them a bit more of a steer on their writing. And during our chats we got some great feedback. As one participant put it, ‘it was the best training course I’ve ever been on and it’s made such a difference to my job – absolutely brilliant!’
Music to our ears.