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Communication teams are often, but not always, supporters of plain language.Frances Gordon | 06 August 2007 | 22:22
Here are three objections to plain language that I’ve recently come across in Communications departments. I’ll give a response to each one.
Objection number one: Just tell them what they want to know
This objection goes like this: ‘Customers don’t want to hear bad news. Let’s just tell them what they want to hear. Leave the stuff about extra charges or cancellation clauses for the small print at the bottom of the page.’
A response: Telling customers what they need to know is just as important as telling them what they want to know. If customers have not understood what you promised them upfront, they will not be happy with what they get further down the line.
Objection number two: If customers understand, they’ll have questions
The second objection is about a fear of being understood: ‘Customers do not understand their products. If we give them information in plain language, they may want to find out even more. Answering their questions will cost us too much money in call-centre time.’
A response: When it’s too expensive to help people understand what they are buying from you, then there is a problem – either with the product or the service. Think of the questions as an investment in customer retention – and in helping the customer become more self-reliant in the future.
Objection number three: Customers are too lazy to read anyways
We hear this objection often and it’s one that I find particularly concerning: ‘We don’t believe in writing in plain language. No-one bothers to read what we write anyways so why should we make the effort?’
Underneath this objection lies a view of the customer as ‘lazy’ or even ‘stupid’. If customers are not reading your writing, then you must find out why not. It may be because you’ve been communicating badly for years, and it’ll take time to change customers’ behavior. There may be problems that are easier to solve, for example too few summaries and no contents pages. What you can be sure of though is that it’s fruitless to blame the customer.
Cheers for now,
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