Improving user experience with user-centred language

Using user centred language

I got a letter this week. It started:

“No transfer of certificated shares by the shareholder or personal representative should be submitted until receipt of confirmation from us that the company’s register has been successfully updated.”

Still with me? I’m surprised. Most customers won’t be.

This is a classic case of why user centred language makes or breaks a customer’s experience. Internally written jargon, which makes absolute sense to those writing it, pushed out to customers with the assumption they’ll get it.

This example’s from a letter, but the same principles apply whether you’re designing an app, revising a customer journey or building your knowledge base. Customer centred language is the bridge between what your business knows, and what you’re trying to get customers to do.

Think like a designer

When I was studying design at university I was always fascinated by wayfinding. They’re the visual cues designers use to help us navigate around something. A good example is an airport – you’re using a whole multitude of “wayfinding’ devices so you know where to collect your tickets, find your terminal and, hopefully, get on a plane.

Improving user experience with user-centred language

When you’re driving home tonight, mentally take note of all the wayfinding devices designed to help you to find your way there. You can thank Jock Kinkier and Margaret Calvert for those.

Designers spend their lives trying to convey things in a simple (visual) language so an audience immediately gets it. The exact same is true for written language too. Making it clear, simple and user focused helps your customers understand what they need to do and how to do it.

If users don’t understand, they won’t act

For anyone who’s interested in the financial impact unclear user language has – this one’s important. Customers who don’t act cost money. Customers who ring your call centre cost you money. Not small amount either. We see a lot of this when we’re auditing customer journeys – millions being wasted on unclear, internally focused customer content.

If communication doesn’t sound like your brand, it detracts from the experience

I’m always fascinated to see how the months and months (and considerable £) invested into branding very rarely gets translated into administrative, post-sales customer communication. There seems to be a divide between administrative functions in business and brand. That means it’s ok to spend several million on a rebrand, but then a non-specialist is tasked with writing a letter which then goes out to all your customers in a language they’ll never understand.

Great user experiences need simplicity in design and language

Great language makes things simple. it clarifies and engages. It helps people make informed choices and encourages behaviour. Advertisers have known this for years – persuasive language sells. It’s the same for more administrative communication.

All your touchpoints need to be about them, not you

If customer experience has taught us anything, it’s that businesses need to start looking at their model from the outside in – recognising the customer’s perspective. Using language your customers easily understand helps them make informed decisions, feel empowered and encourages the right behaviour.

Customer centric language is more important than ever

Language is the bridge between you and your customers. As social media continues to rise as a channel for customer care, and online “self-help” becomes more and more important – so too do the words you use to populate them.

New channels have brought with them a greater need to communicate with customers clearly, simply and empathetically. User centred language is fundamental to designing engaging experiences for customers.

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James Freeman-Gray

I'm co-founder here at Rubuss. I work across service design, customer experience, complaints and cultural change. I'm also an executive coach supporting leaders to take a human-centred approach to empowering their teams.