What will your reader want to know?

Quill2Back in pre-email days, Dean Acheson observed that ‘most memos are written not to inform the reader but to protect the writer’.

I was reminded of this last month when I received a missive from a service supplier.  It was headed ‘Some changes we need to let you know about’.  And the heading was followed by ten paragraphs that seemed to have come straight from the well-worn quill of a Dickensian lawyer who was taking no chances.  (The apparent attempt to translate the legalise into Plain English had been far from successful.)

The missive raised several questions but answered none.  And the website, at which I could supposedly ‘find out more about these changes’, was equally unhelpful.

I have no doubt that the missive was composed and sent to meet the requirements of some regulation designed to ‘protect the consumer’.  But far from informing the reader it simply ended up protecting the writer.

When setting out to communicate with their customers, many organisations make the mistake of asking: ‘What does the customer need to know?’  But all too few remember to ask: ‘What will the customer want to know?’

The Head of Customer Service at one mid-sized organisation told me that whenever her organisation sends out a poorly thought through customer bulletin, it generates around one thousand in-bound phone calls from confused and often angry customers.  And what is the cost of dealing with that?

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