Using the wrong words can disengage clients, writes marketing/PR consultant Sharon Mason
We increasingly hear about the importance of the ‘customer experience'. This experience is always enhanced when a customer is engaged - whether that be a corporate or individual customer. We understand the importance of keeping in regular contact with customers to improve engagement.
And we've got better at making that contact more personal: no-one wants to receive a letter that reads like T&Cs where you need a lawyer to decipher it. But it's not just the frequency or the style of communication that's important, the words and terms we use are too. And it's not just written communication, but it's what we say as well.
The more consistent our language is - for instance, when we talk at industry events, and with each other - the more likely we are to talk in the same way to clients. And that can make all the difference when looking to engage. This is across the board, from proposition development to promotion.
For instance, we rightly want to encourage a culture of prevention and early intervention. Then it could well be time to consider if there's still a place for the term ‘the worried well'. It's a pejorative term and implies hypochondria. We don't know if someone is worried and well until they've had a diagnosis.
One of the great successes of screening is when people are tested before they have any symptoms. We don't want people not to attend screening because they feel they're wasting the time of a medical professional, we want people to attend because they feel they're ‘informed and responsible': which is possibly a better term if we want people to engage with prevention and early intervention.
Language evolves, and while it can be a challenge to drop a term that's ingrained, it's important to keep up with current thinking. For instance, it's no longer acceptable to talk about someone ‘committing suicide' as it stopped being a criminal offence long ago. It's important we update our language, both in any relevant written documentation as well as when we speak to people.
Likewise, there are many groups that are reticent to seek help for mental health issues. It's important to consider the possibility that using different terms might increase engagement. Promoting ‘Building Resilience', ‘Emotional Wellbeing' or ‘Cognitive Analysis' training courses/helplines/Apps might encourage greater take up. Rather than people having to muster the courage to engage, they may be proactively keener.
There isn't always a clear-cut answer about which are the most appropriate health and wellbeing words to use. Some people find it helpful to talk about their ‘battle' with cancer, for others it's offensive - it can imply that if they lose it's because they didn't fight hard enough. But it's important to be aware that terms which are common in our lexicon, that trip off the tongue without much thought, can have more of an effect than we might realise.
It's not just language related to health conditions that needs consideration, but also the premise on which propositions are promoted. We often hear about insurance giving ‘peace of mind', and that is definitely a compelling reason for some, but only if they had an unsettled mind beforehand. It's important that we also look to engage those that aren't concerned. In practice that might mean we need to give more focus to the tangible benefits of the proposition. Propositions that can provide more benefits than just peace of mind are likely to be more successful.
It can be tempting to try to convince potential clients about the likelihood of something happening as the compelling reason to buy a particular kind of cover. But this won't convince everyone. We now hear about people having a one-in-two chance of getting cancer, but that's still 50% that won't. One in four will suffer a mental health issue, that's 75% that won't. Added-value benefits that can be utilised even when a claim isn't made can be compelling for everyone, and can increase engagement if they're promoted more prominently, hence the huge growth in this area.
This isn't about jargon, most industries are getting better at talking in plain English, and in fact there's definitely a place for some jargon. It can be very powerful when clients start using industry terms back to us, in the same way that we've all embraced terms like Apps, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. But it is important that industry jargon makes sense to individuals, because then it means we can all talk from the same page.
I had a great idea once (I thought) when I was marketing director for an employee benefits consultancy, to put everything we wrote into plain English. I approached the services of a renowned trade body to give us their guidance so we could get their accreditation. The result was going to be using 100 words when 10 would do, but overly long descriptions don't help anyone. When jargon makes sense, it doesn't disenfranchise or alienate customers, it can be helpful and actually add value.
There isn't always a clear right and wrong. The important thing is to be aware of the power of words. And, like most things in life, this doesn't stand still. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. It's important to continuously think about the words and terms we use, check and review. When we want to improve the customer experience, increase engagement, grow our customer base, the right words can make all the difference.
Sharon Mason is marketing and PR consultant for SMUK Marketing and PR
Effective 6 December
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