Guest Post: Stamp Out Sugarcoating
Sugar-coated messages are in bad taste. In survey after survey, people ask for straight talk on all issues. They don't want artificially-sweetened words that supposedly will help the medicineâ€”that is, the tough messages–go down.
Sugar-coated messages are still a national problem though. Companies continue to spin convoluted webs trying to trap you. It's hard to figure out what they're trying to tell you. Because of their obfuscation, they insult your intelligence, waste your time, and show disrespect. To me, this is the exact opposite of LEAN COMMUNICATIONS, which is what I advocate and try to practice.
For example, LeanBlog.org founder Mark Graban showed me a classic example of a confusing, sugar-coated letter he recently received from a rental car company. Click on the photo (left) for a full-sized, readable view. Don't do this at workâ€” or at home either.
If you need to deliver a difficult message to customers or to anyone else for that matter, be direct. Specifically:
- Get to the point immediately. Don't bury the message. It's okay for dogs to bury their treasures, but not individuals who want to convey information and be perceived as being credible. In a five-paragraph letter, the meat of the letter to Mark didn't start until the third paragraph.
- Take responsibility. Don't hide behind the passive voice and inanimate objects. For instance, this letter included many wishy-washy phrases such as “we recently were notified,” “your rental vehicle incurred a violation,” and “we follow up with customers …even when additional charges are inadvertently incurred.”
- Explain what actions you expect your customer to take, especially if you are providing options. Be explicit and precise so you don't leave any room open to interpretation. In this situation, two of us had different reactions on what we could or should do next, based on what we thought we were reading.
If you can't say or write something well, rent writing or editing help. Or, if that's beyond your budget, at least test your difficult messages with some individuals before you send them.
Why is this so important? Bad messaging often adds insult to injury, especially if the reader/customer starts to question the underlying substance of the message. After reading this letter, I started to wonder what the company's priorities were around customers and customer service.
Customers generally have many choices. After reading about the extra 75 cents that became $10.75 with the administrative charge, I decided I'd rather walk…to the next rental car counter. What about you?