Customer friendly writing

Where does that nerdy/jobsworth accent come from? You know, the “We regret to inform you…” announcement that somehow sounds bored and smug all at once?

Sadly no one is immune. Without knowing it, you may have become that tedious bore in your writing. Yes, you! But you are not alone and there is a cure.

It’s not big, and it’s not clever

I have seen perfectly normal people adopt this tone when they’re asked to write something for work. Suddenly in their heads “It is officious in the first instance” sounds perfectly acceptable. They’re back in the classroom getting extra marks for using ‘big words’.

But you’re not in the classroom. You’re in the real world and you have just made your customer feel patronised, bored or worse, both. People buy from people they trust. But if I’ve just been made to feel like an idiot because I don’t understand a word or phrase, I’ll go elsewhere.

Tips for customer-friendly writing

1. Write as you would speak on the phone

Imagine what answer you would give on the phone. Then write that down, leaving out the “erm”s and “hang on, I think the dog’s eaten the brochure”.

2. Use questions and answers

Haven’t a clue where to start? Questions and answers are a great way to split things up. Using questions from actual clients is even better. Take a look at my Ink Gardener’s Question Time for ideas of customer-friendly writing.

3. Be active

Do you remember active and passive verbs? Passive verbs languish like some boring Victorian character, having things happen to them. Active verbs make everything more energetic and more human. So just make sure someone is doing the verb. For example:

Replace “The dragon will be hunted” with “We will hunt the dragon”.

4. Swap the worst offenders

If you see any of the following nerdy/jobsworth words on your invoices, web pages, leaflets or automated emails simply swap it for its friendlier twin.

  • prior to – swap to: before
  • commence – start or begin
  • the particulars – the details
  • in order to – to
  • in the event of – if
  • regarding – about
  • on receipt of – when we get or when you get
  • in excess of – more than

Plain English doesn’t mean boring English

For more great advice and some corking before and after examples, please take a look at the Plain English website and the Plain Language Commission. Here’s one of my favourites:

“Ensure the potential impact of non-routine factors and problems and other services are assessed and details notified promptly to an appropriate person.”

was rewritten by a Derbyshire bus driver to become:

“Inform the depot if you are stuck in traffic or involved in an accident.”

Thanking you kindly for your expanded period of attention!

Need some help?

Google-friendly and customer-friendly writing is what I do best, and have done for more than 20 years. Find out more on my SEO web content page.