When Communicating With Customers Use Common Language!

Recently I’ve received a series of email notices from a cloud-based software provider that offers a service I use. (I’m not going to mention their name, because I don’t want to suddenly begin receiving even *more* difficult-to-interpret messages from them.) Suffice it to say they’re a good company, a big company and one that has become a leader in their area of service.

But their consumer communications leave a lot to be desired.  While some percentage of their customer base may represent IT professionals, a significant percentage (based on what I know about them) represent small companies like mine that are run by non-IT professionals and that don’t have IT departments to help decode techie language.

The subject line of the emails they’ve been sending to warn me of some impending change reads:

“ACTION REQUIRED: Upcoming Changes to your NA7 Service Instance”

What does *that* mean? Most importantly, what does it really mean to *me* in terms of my use of their service. What is going to happen/change?

But it gets better–or worse. Although they say: “At _____, customer success through system availability and reliability is our top priority,” and I believe them, their email is unintelligible to me. Here’s a snippet:

“As part of our ongoing commitment to enhancing our infrastructure, we will be moving your organization from the NA7 service instance to the NA10 service instance on (date). The NA10 and NA11 service instances will reside in our new east coast data center.”

Huh? Again, what does that mean to me? What’s going to happen relative to how I use this service? They go on to attempt to tell me:

In preparation for this move, you should ensure that your organization follows our recommend (sic) best practices of using relative URLs in any integrations with your ______ application. We would like to take this opportunity to highlight best practices to ensure your company’s continued success.”

I still don’t know what they’re talking about. But then they provide step-by-step instructions (my annotations in parends).

1. Review all custom links to ensure they use relative URL references  (what are “relative URL references”?)
2. Review any integration that uses the ____.com web services API to ensure there are no hard-coded references to na7.____.com (what??)
3. Review any customer and/or partner portal setup for hard-coded references to na7._____.com (huh??)
4. If you whitelist IP addresses, add the new IP addresses to the existing range (OK, I think I get this one…except I don’t know what these new IP addresses are…)

They then offer a link “for further information on best practices for hard coded references, as well as a list of our IP ranges,” but frankly I’m afraid to go there.  The thing is, as a small business consumer and one of their customers I need them to communicate with me in my  language, not theirs. It’s like going to the doctor–those that are able to translate their medical-speak into patient-speak are far more effective in getting their message across and building strong patient relationships.

IT-speak is no different. We’re not all technies and even though we (I) probably could take some time to attempt to decode these messages, I really don’t *have* the time.  I’m thinking that I’m probably not the only one. My prediction is that their failure to find somebody who could help translate the IT message into consumer-speak will result in:

  • Confusion and frustration on the part of at least a certain segment of their users
  • Increased calls and emails to their help-desk asking for clarification and support
  • Lost customers who decide to shift to another provider

I’m sure they don’t want that. It’s not, of course, just the IT industry that has trouble communicating “in plain language.” We all do. Each of us, regardless of our area of specialty or focus, risks confusing our audience by using our language and our terminology to communicate with them. Just because it makes sense to us, doesn’t mean it will make sense to them.

Have you looked at the messages you’re sending to your target audience(s) lately? If not, you should. And you might also consider asking some of the representatives of your target audience to give you some feedback on what you might do to make those messages more clear, succinct and understandable–in their language. I think that investment of time/effort will significantly pay off in the long-run in terms of increased customer satisfaction, decreased calls/emails to your support staff, and fewer lost customers who simply decide to “give up” and shift their business somewhere else.

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