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AMERICAN CITY BUSINESS JOURNALS – How to Communicate Effectively in Writing

American_City_Business_Journals_Logo_1 Customer trust and company brand image at stake with each message. Clear and easy-to-use written communication saves businesses time and money and is a crucial part of building customer trust.

This is according to Deborah S. Bosley, owner and principal of the Plain Language Group, and professor emerita at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. Bosley helps organizations develop clear, concise written communication and plain language plans that keep messages simple and easily understood.

“There is a cost to confused language,” said Bosley. “I was a customer with one of the larger investment firms in the U.S. and received a letter they sent to investors. The letter began, ‘Enclosed is your endorsement.’ I told them I didn’t know what ‘endorsement’ meant. Other jargon used in the letter added to the confusion. I learned the first week that letter went out they received 10,000 calls from people who didn’t understand what it was saying. Let’s say it took their customer service reps 10 minutes to handle each call. Multiply that time by the average wage rate of the reps and they lost more than $1million dollars.”

Brand damage

Bosley noted when consumers receive communication that is difficult to understand, confusing or unclear, it damages the company brand. She said companies often miss the mark in recognizing the marketing impact of poorly written customer communications. “Every communication sent either moves a customer closer to the company or moves them farther away,” said Bosley. “There is brand damage (or enhancement) with every piece of communication sent.” Clear communication is no less important for smaller businesses.

Bosley cited an example of a retailer who sent current customers upcoming sale information. Buried in the email was a list of merchandise exclusions, not part of the sale. “Customers were likely to feel cheated,” said Bosley. “The email said everything was 25 percent off, yet here is an entire list of merchandise not part of that sale. By giving with one hand, and taking with the other, the business damaged the trust relationship with their customer.”

Bosley suggested a more effective communication in this instance would only target the merchandise on sale, making that the focus of the communication. Don’t overlook even the most basic customer interface points. Consider billing. Bills should convey clearly two elements, how much is owed and why, according to Bosley. “If I get a bill and can’t immediately see what the transaction was and what I owe, then the small business owner is not communicating effectively,” said Bosley.

Communicating on the Web

Social media and company websites are areas of increasing importance with the rapid advance of e-commerce. Bosley says businesses need to be laser-focused in making it easy for their customers to find answers to their questions. She says the most critical elements of a business website should emphasize and describe products/services offered, customer benefits and specific contact information. Ease of ordering/purchase are crucial for online retailers, as Bosley noted the average consumer will spend about five seconds on a website deciding if they want to interact.

Keep the customers’ interest first and foremost

“The difference between what I need to know as a customer and what you want to tell me as a retailer may be vastly different things,” said Bosley. “The Twitter mentality of being extraordinarily concise needs to be incorporated into website communication. Websites need to succinctly and clearly tell customers what they need to know. People don’t read anymore, they scan. As a customer I need to quickly locate the information I’m looking for.”

By reducing text, using headings, icons, and graphics on their websites, businesses enhance the ease of online navigation for their customers and offer a better experience. Small business owners are well served in crafting messages that are easily received and understood by their customers.

“It is easy to be complex,” said Bosley. “It is much harder to be simple.”