Good communication is always about the listener. It’s always about the reader. It’s always about the customer.
It’s not about you.
This article is about how to speak your customers’ language, but there is one thing you should remember when you finish reading: It’s all about the customer, not about you.
Long before the internet, companies would write pamphlets and letters about “our products” and “our solutions” and “We are the specialists”. But nobody goes to your website or store because of your products or services. They go there because of their problems or desires.
There is something they need, or there is something they want. If your product or service can fill that need or desire, bravo! You get a sale.
So customer-centric is the way to go. Here are four ways to speak your customers’ language.
Use the right pronouns
This is an easy way to quickly check if you are on track. Once you have a web page or brochure or report drafted, do a quick word count of your reader’s pronouns.
Compare that to the word count for your own pronouns:
If your own pronouns outnumber your reader’s pronouns, your message will come across as being self-centered.
We are all self-centered. Rather than fall prey to your own self-centeredness, learn to harness your customers’ self-centeredness. In fact, you should have at least twice as many reader pronouns as business pronouns. If not, it’s time to edit.
Editing to change pronouns is not all that hard. Here’s an example.
Our Oompat Borgamizer cleans up even the most stubborn stains.
You can easily clean up even the most stubborn stains with Oompat Borgamizer.
Edits can make your materials more customer-centric, although that’s not the best word to use, because it’s not a customer-centric word.
Use common words
Have you ever noticed how business writing often uses big words and long sentences?
In real life, nobody utilizes things. They use things. In real life, nothing is “with the exception of”. It’s always “except for”. Nobody goes out to arrange for the repair of their car. They go to get their car fixed.
But when we start writing for business, we automatically start trying to add formalities to our writing. These “formalities” are not actually more formal. They are just more cumbersome. They make your writing feel heavy to wade through. There’s a good list of examples here, to see what I mean.
You lose readers.
More specifically, you lose readers who might have become customers. A plain language edit for your business and marketing materials can be very profitable.
Do a plain language edit
Big words and cumbersome sentence structures are not the only barriers businesses place between themselves and their readers. In fact, the biggest barrier is quite literally a wall. It’s the dreaded wall of text. This is when several sentences, sometimes very long sentences, are blocked together to form a huge block of text.
That’s intimidating. Here’s how basic psychology works when confronted with that kind of page:
Ooh, that’s a whole lot of text.
Reading that could be a lot of work.
I don’t feel like working right now.
A plain language edit comprises many steps. It’s not just about the words. It’s about content design overall. Here’s a handy graphic of some of the top plain language edits you can make to improve your business communications.
Avoid jargon and acronyms
When somebody lands on your page or picks up your brochure, do they understand you? They might know nothing about your industry. They might have no clue what LEED means. They might not know the difference between AC and DC. They might not even know what RPMs or IVF or GMO means.
As a quick test, how many of those six very common acronyms do you know? Right. And many of your customers are less educated than you.
On the other hand, many of your customers are educated and are familiar with your terminology. This is especially true in B2B communications. You don’t want to appear unprofessional. You need to use common industry terminology.
What can you do? Here are four options:
Spell out the term the first time, with the acronym in brackets, like this: business to business (B2B). After that, use just the acronym. Best to do this only with very technical texts that have many long strings of terms.
Explain the term the first time you use it.
Add a title tag to all acronyms, which is worth doing anyway. Make sure you hire coders who understand accessibility.
Link the word’s first appearance to a page that explains it. This does not interfere with the reading, but it does help newcomers understand your message.
The first thing anybody learns in business, probably because most people are customers before they become entrepreneurs, is that the customer is always right. But we forget that when we start writing.
Don’t be shy to pinch ideas from the ‘Writing for GOV.UK‘ guide, or the Canada.ca Content Style Guide. They’ve refreshed their directives based on user testing, over and over again.
If you speak the customer’s language, you’ll get more readers. If you make it easy for customers to read your message, they will. If you get customer-centric, you’ll sell more. Just don’t use words like “customer-centric” too much.