Recently, I overheard a captain of industry complaining that a high proportion of the calls to his overworked call centre should not have been necessary. ‘If customers just read the stuff we send them, they’d already know what they need to know.’ Really?
Given the right piece of prose, I just might be the world’s slowest reader.
With the right piece of prose, I often find myself savouring each word, each sentence – even savouring the spaces between the sentences. And sometimes, after perhaps just 15 or 20 pages of quality writing, I find that my appetite is sated – for the moment, anyway. But I do know exactly what I have read. I do understand what the writer is saying.
Recently, it took me the best part of a week to read a novella – probably no more that about 18,000 words – such was the quality of the prose. And it was not the first time that I had read that particular novella. Over the past 20 years, I have probably read it seven or eight times. And I am pretty sure that I will read it again.
And then there is the average email or other written communication that I receive from my local council or utility or other service provider.
These tend to take between six and eight seconds to ‘read’: a couple of seconds to read the opening sentence (blah); a couple of seconds to see if the gibberish has become any clearer by the midpoint (not often); and a quick peruse of the last sentence or two to see if I can discern any need for further action (and it is rare that I can).
Here’s a tip for all you captains of industry: if you want your customers (and would-be customers) to read your missives, get the very best writers that you can find to write them for you. Not the best salespeople you can find. Not the best sandwich makers you can find. The best writers.
That way, your intended readers will probably read your missives carefully and attentively. And it will save your organisation thousands of dollars, and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars. Simple really.