CEO Blog



It's only words

Anne Marie Forsyth, CEO, CCA
07/04/2017

 

This week the Prime Minister and others expressed outrage at the apparent omission of the word 'Easter' from 'egg' from none other than the National Trust and Cadbury - except the omission wasn't really a deliberate omission, but a bit of a drama about not very much.
 
Nevertheless, there was wall to wall media coverage, not to mention the multi magnifying impact on social until we all calmed down about what is after all a gloriously simple festival devoid of panic, presents, sky high credit card bills and family feuds.
 
In the same week, we heard Nigel Farage accuse the EU of acting like the Mafia, he subsequently climbed down and relented to the less offensive (?) term gangsters. David Moyes, Sunderland football manager was outed for using highly inappropriate language to a female BBC reporter, it only became news when it became news; the reporter didn't complain at the time.
 
In parliament, a committee looked at the rights of workers from organisations like Amazon, deliveroo and Uber and concluded that the contracts signed by employees were 'gobbledygook', unintelligible and certainly confusing to employees (or not) who would be unclear as to what they were signing up to.
 
Words matter, they really do. Perhaps more so than ever in our world, where a phrase can be lifted in or out of context, and repeated billions of times on social platforms and relayed ad nauseam on 24 /7 news channels.
 
How many needless conversations take place in customer service departments fuelled by careless language, sometimes over enthusiastic marketing messages which seem (and are) too good to be true? How much small print is unintelligible but proves vital at the point when a consumer stumbles upon it for the first time, leading to frustration and sometimes untold misery.
 
How many panic calls are made to public services due to careless speak by politicians looking to score political points, disregarding the consequences of demand spikes, bad experience for consumers not to mention stressed staff.
 
And of course, punctuation matters too. According to John MacLeod of the Mail yesterday (yes another plane journey!) employees of a dairy in Portland, Maine won a $10m class action against the company because of its failure to use the Oxford comma in a critical part of the contract that listed exceptions to the payment of overtime.
 
We know that today's time poor consumers rely on headlines and sound bites more than ever, few of us consume weighty documents in detail. As I've blogged about in the past apparently in 60% of retweets the sender hasn't even read what they are sending. However, if we are serious about rebuilding trust in our organisations across the board, then the use of plain English is paramount. If something is important it shouldn't be buried in point 2 sized appendices, it should be clearly explained.
 
If we can't back up service claims like 'speak to an expert 24/7', then don't make them. If we are changing the way a bill is formatted, consider what it will look like to the customer before a million or so calls jam up the system.
 
Otherwise we all end up with egg on our faces; but so long as it's the Easter chocolate variety I certainly don't mind!


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