On Wednesday, March 21, we met at Lawrence Technological University for our program Clear and Simple. Our speaker, Ed Lanigan, spoke on how clarifying information and presenting it in a simple way improves our ability to communicate with our readers and creates better customer experiences. Ed has more than 20 years of multi-industry experience focused on customer experience, service performance, and six-sigma continuous improvement, and we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to hear him speak.
This thought-provoking discussion detailed the process of implementing a company-wide strategy for designing and using standardized letter templates that not only improved internal processes by slimming down unnecessary communication but also improved the content of the letters by providing a set of guidelines for writers. With the use of a standardized template, employees in different sections of the company could customize communication to clients while maintaining company branding and ensuring that the information the reader needed to know was visible and well-designed.
What to do when you don’t have a product
If your company doesn’t have a tangible product, it’s important that the material you do provide to customers is consistent, clear, and well-designed. In a large business, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, there are many different departments that need to communicate with customers. When there wasn’t a standardized template for communicating information, the letters that the customer received were prone to inconsistency and caused confusion for the readers. This increased the need for customer service help. With the support of a consistent tool for communicating information clearly and simply, the additional cost and time that would have gone to clarifying information could be used to support customers in better and more fulfilling ways.
Standardize your communication
Humans understand and learn information better if it follows a recognizable pattern. When different departments of a company send letters that differ in appearance, it forces the customer to look for important information in many locations and prevents them from establishing a pattern they can use in the future. This can cause frustration and confusion in the customer and ultimately creates a poor customer experience. Standardizing communication improves usability and overall customer satisfaction.
Prior to the implementation of the Clear and Simple program at Blue Cross Blue Shield, letters to customers had inconsistent formatting: footers, titles, calls to action, and logos were displayed differently depending on the letter. Using a consistent letter template with similar branding, titles, and calls to action ensures that the customer knows where to look for the most important information and then determine what they need to do with that information.
Use consistent branding
In large companies with different departments, it’s common to have many levels of branding; however, it’s extremely important to use the company’s primary logo so that the customer understands where the document or letter is coming from. Displaying a single logo in a consistent location builds trust with the customer. In some cases, the primary logo can be paired with a logo for a specific department or project, but it’s important to display the logos in a consistent location to ensure the reader’s visual pattern for understanding information is still respected.
Use good titles
Titles are one of the first locations the reader’s eyes are drawn to when they open a letter or document. Titles must be visually differentiated from the rest of the information on the page, and they need to succinctly communicate to the reader what the rest of the letter or document is about; this is done by using consistent formatting and placement on the page.
Use calls to action
A call to action is meant to get the reader to act upon the information presented to them. It is a brief sentence or two that may inform the reader to call their representative or review their policy. Using consistent styling and clear and simple language will help ensure that the reader sees and acts upon calls to action.
The clear and simple methodology emphasizes that we should always go back to what the reader needs most—an easy to read, intuitive, and clear document. As writers and communicators, we can often become mired in the details and writing style we like best, forgetting that the readers and their ability to understand the document is what’s most important (not our egos). With real-world examples of how communication can go so wrong, we were reminded of the importance of using clear and simple language and design to communicate.