Have you ever been handed a set of forms to fill out only to be confused by what they are even asking for? Or, find conflicting or insufficient information in paperwork or online that only makes the whole process more complicated and drawn out? The lack of clarity in so many common forms and applications truly can drive customers crazy. That’s why thoroughly reviewing the language you’re putting in front of customers or wording on forms you’re requesting from them is a necessary and ongoing part of customer service practices.
For example, if your child’s school requests that EACH and EVERY parent and legal guardian read a student/parent handbook and then sign an online form saying they did so, proper language may look like this:
“We ask that each and every parent or legal guardian responsible for a student read our parent/student handbook and sign the form indicating you have done so.”
This means that every single parent legally responsible for a child, under one roof or not, and who has authority to do so, should read and sign. If you aren’t clear in your language and state – “We ask parents to read our parent/student handbook and sign the form before the first day of school….” – you can bet that most people will assume only the parent filling out the form needs to sign. What’s worse is when those parents receive a notice saying the school hasn’t received all necessary signatures, leaving the parents confused.
How about filling out taxes each year? Have you ever seen anything more confusing? Or, have you ever read through instructions in a manual only to give up after scratching your head for a solid hour?
Sadly, unclear language is so commonplace these days. So what can your company do to correct it? Consider these tips:
- Regularly review your forms, communication pieces, email campaigns and company collateral to fine-tune language and look for areas where you notice customers are tripping up. Make note of common questions from customers. Ensure language is updated across all channels.
- Be specific. If you want specific information from your customers, use details and clearly state what you need from them.
- Look for phrasing that you as an internal employee may understand perfectly well but may not be clear to an outsider.
- Use general language and be vague. Enough said!
- Contradict prior language. Have you ever read something only to flip one page over and find a contradiction? Avoid this!
- Continue to use the same forms for years upon years without reviewing wording. As industries progress and change, so does the language consumers become accustomed to. And as you are speaking to younger generations, it’s important to update language to match your industry’s known terms.
If you know me, you’ve likely heard me say “this makes no sense” many, many times. It’s truly a pet peeve, and a string of vague and contradictory forms and instructions inspired me to write this blog post. Just remember – write for clarity. Know who you are writing to and avoid loaded words. You’ll find that customers are less confused and can return paperwork more quickly!