The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Friday Guest Blog by Robert Hempsall

As businesses, we're constantly taking time to understand our customers but how often do we take time to check our customers understand us.

I'm not talking about our brand values or anything deep and meaningful like that. I'm talking about the everyday pieces of information we use to tell customers about everyday matters: instructions to tell customers how to use a product, letters to tell customers what we need them to do, forms to collect their data or terms and conditions about a service – to name a few.

These everyday pieces of information, whether we deliver them on paper or on screen, often become the main way of communicating with customers once they’ve signed up. Despite the fact these documents are a vital part of keeping existing customers happy; usually far less attention is paid to creating them than is paid to the more glamorous things like brochures and websites – the traditional methods of enticing new customers.

It’s quite easy to see why these sorts of documents usually don't get the attention they need. After all, who’s responsible for them? Marketing are too busy worrying about getting more customers. Customer services are too busy dealing with unhappy customers.

But for the business, providing customers with information they don’t understand has two harmful affects: one on their bottom line and one on their brand – I’ll let you decide which is worse via an example:

After lots of investment in development and testing, a new product is out there in the marketplace and selling well, but slowly it becomes clear that the customers who have believed the hype and bought the new product can’t get it to work, not because it doesn’t work, but because they don’t understand how to make it work.

As far as they’re concerned, they’ve followed the instructions properly so they thinks it’s broken or that it doesn’t really do all the great things it said it would.
Now they have a few choices:

• They take it back and get a replacement and all of a sudden a perfectly good product is going to be binned
• They take it back and ask for their money back to buy an equivalent from a different brand
• They ring up to complain and have to be told how to get it to work.

So what steps can the company deal with to fix these problems?

• Employ someone to deal with the phone calls – not cheap
• Produce new instructions for the next batch of products – not cheap and doesn’t solve the problem for the customers who already have the product.

All this because of a piece of misunderstanding that could have been avoided if some time was taken to make sure that customers understood what they were being told in the first place.

From the customer’s point of view, if they don’t understand what these pieces of information are telling them, it’s an annoyance to them, and one they’ll be happy to share with anyone who’ll listen. Technology now makes it even easier to tell even more people even quicker than it ever was, and as people are prone to taking recommendations from other people, the potential damage to a brand that unpoliced feedback can cause is massive.

Creating information that people can understand isn’t going to bring rafts of new customers beating down the door, but a bit of consideration goes a long way towards gaining some trust and loyalty – never bad things to have from your customers.

In fact, with trust in place and a belief in what you're telling them, customers will even be prepared to forgive you if things go a bit wrong once in a while (come on, admit it, they do) – as long as they understand why.

Robert Hempsall Information designer
01254 696 831
07590 850 013

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