The days of the ‘wheretofore’, ‘hereunder’ and ‘here withal’ in our written expression are well behind us and now we’re dealing with the wild short cuts of SMS text messages: lol, cu, ur, etc. Neither style suits business communication which needs relevant information presented simply and clearly.
So how do the written materials you send out to clients measure up? Are they simple, straightforward, clear, and easy to understand?
Are you respecting and empowering your clients?
Some years ago I received a form letter from my insurance company, a large, extremely well-known organisation. As I sat in my kitchen reading the letter, I was struck by how convoluted the writing was. There wasn’t a single simple, conversational sentence to be found. The whole thing was jargon and self-important verbosity.
I’d been teaching Creative Writing for some years but I’d never run a corporate training in my life. On a whim, I rang the company and offered my services to help them make their written material more user-friendly and I was pleasantly surprised when they expressed immediate interest and invited me in for a meeting.
I was even more surprised by an interaction I had with one of their managers during the training that ensued. I was so deeply struck by this experience that it has stayed with me ever since.
Your ‘shoulds’ could be getting in the way of your business success.
We began working through various standard letters that the insurance company routinely sent their clients. Each one was mired in excessive jargon. It was as if they were saying, ‘If you don’t understand what we’re saying, bad luck!’
I pointed this out to the group, suggesting that they rewrite a particular section much more simply. One of the managers objected. “Customers should understand this because it’s their policy,” he said.
“But they won’t,” I replied.
“But they should,” the manager insisted.
“But they won’t,” I said evenly. “That’s the reality. Most of your customers won’t take the trouble to undertake a course in Law to understand this stuff. You’ve got to recognize that that’s where they’re at and go to the trouble yourself of making your material crystal clear.”
He didn’t get it. He just kept insisting that their customers ‘should’ make the effort to understand the material.
We were talking about fairly heavy legal jargon, and I couldn’t help visualising little old ladies, labourers, over-worked parents… and wondering how it could possibly be against this company’s interests to spend some time rewriting their material in simple language.
When you empower your clients they stay with you – and recommend you.
The fact is that when you empower your clients by looking after their needs, they stay with you and they recommend you. When you frustrate them, eventually they give up. When you make your material ponderous and difficult to comprehend, they are more likely to make poor decisions because they haven’t understood your advice, and that’s not likely to inspire them to stay with you for the long haul either.
If your material is inclined to be jargonistic, do your customers a favour by humbly giving your writing the acid test: ask a lay person to explain what your material means and find out if they really understood.
And if they didn’t, roll up your sleeves…