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Insider Language

“Why don’t our customers follow the instructions?” is an all-to-common lament. If your customers can’t figure out how to register, pay, interact or respond to your communication, then it is a problem for your organization, not for the customer. Rather than assuming customers are dense, it is likely that the communication was written with insider knowledge and it is not clear to the customer. This is especially true for online processes that require several steps. It is popular to blame user error, but the onus is on the communicator to make processes clear to users who may not have sophisticated knowledge of organizational lingo.

How can you avoid unclear communication that uses insider language?

  • Be ruthless in editing word choices and selecting words that have common meaning, rather than acronyms and titles that are not obvious to your customers. Insider language does not belong in any communication going to external customers. Don’t assume they know what you mean, they don’t!
  • When editing instructions, actually take each step as it is given. This may seem obvious, but it is too easy to give a superficial edit. Always ask the question, “Now what do I do?” If the answer isn’t evident, then the instructions are not clear enough for an outsider.
  • Have real customers review key messages that impact revenue streams. What do they think and do when they see a message? Give out prizes and incentives to develop an advisory team of customers.
  • Listen to your customers. What words do they use to describe their interactions and activities? Use their words in your content and instructions.
  • Make sure visuals match instructions. People don’t actually read all the instructions on a computer screen or a paper form, so make sure there are clear visual cues for each step in a process.

It is hard to shed insider language, because everyone in your organization knows what it means, so all your internal editorial review will not eradicate insider language. Take intentional steps to think and talk like your customers, because their impression and actions related to your communications is all that matters.

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