Errrrm, Ryan – quick question. Why would you prepare for something you’re not expecting?
Archive for March, 2012
I rang my bank to ask them if I could change my mortgage from interest only payments to part repayments. They said “not a problem” and that they’d send me a form. Seven days later – just when I was feeling forgotten – the form arrived along with a letter:
“Dear Miss Eden…” All fine so far. Brownie points for calling me “Miss.” I am often called “Mrs” Eden and this gets my goat. My mum is Mrs Eden.
“Thank you for your enquiry.” Well, it has gone beyond an enquiry. This is something I want to do, but okay. Pretty standard fare in a letter from a bank.
“We have no objections to you….” Whoa! What?! You have no objections to me paying back money I have borrowed. No objections?! Well, that’s big of you. That’s put me in my place. And it reveals a lot about how you see our relationship. You are big and I am small. You are in control and I need your permission. Do you have another letter you send to other customers saying, “We do object to you paying your mortgage back. We’d really prefer you to stay in debt for as long as possible. That way we make more money.” Am I wrong in thinking that the whole point of a mortgage is that I need to give the money back?
Take a lesson from retailers. I can’t imagine going for my morning coffee and being told, “We have no objection to you buying this coffee…” In fact, when I took out my mortgage with you, you sent me a letter saying, “I would like to take this opportunity of welcoming you as a new customer…” You didn’t say, “We have no objections to you being a customer…”
Well, bank that shall be nameless, you’ve changed your tune, and I object. Your choice of words have made me think twice about you. You had an opportunity to choose your words with care and to build our relationship, to make me think well of your brand. This could be a case of careless words costing you a customer.
It’s a bit odd, you might think, to go to the trouble of publishing a blog post and then encourage people not to read it. That’s like going to the trouble of building a playground then encouraging children not to play in it. Like this playground I spotted this week.
Never mind the fact that it’s a legal-sounding warning addressed to young children (and when was the last time you heard a child say “Please accompany me”?) Never mind the implication that it’s possible for someone to be ‘a guardian over the age of 18’ without being ‘an adult’. No, the point here is what this sign is encouraging you to do. The action it would prefer the reader to take is NOT to enter the play area. It actually starts by saying you can’t – ‘No entry’.
Presumably, they do want children to play on it. Presumably what they meant to say is ‘When you play here you have to have an adult with you’. Or perhaps a cooler ‘Children must be accompanied by an adult’. But they’ve ended up using very negative language to talk about a positive experience.
We often find companies using this kind of unnecessarily negative language when they write to customers.
The application form for insurance that says ‘Failure to return this form by 1st June will invalidate the application’, focuses on the miserable scenario in which you don’t apply. It’s like putting up a sign to tell you all about the idea of not applying. It could easily talk instead about the joyful scenario in which you do apply: ‘To make sure your application is valid, please return this form by 1st June.’
The pensions brochure that begins by telling you that ‘retirement can be a real worry – how will you pay the bills?’ is hardly inviting you to read on. It’s like putting up a sign saying ‘Retirement area – do not enter’. Can’t retiring be something to look forward to? Isn’t it the playground we long for after a lifetime of work? It can be, if we talk about it in the right way.
Of course, we don’t have to explain to a child that playing is fun. So if a child wants to play in a play area, a notice at the entrance that starts ‘No entry’ probably won’t put them off. But starting a pension plan is not fun. Neither is applying for insurance. Unlike the enthusiastic child who can’t wait to get on the climbing frame, it doesn’t take much to turn a customer away from a product they weren’t that keen on in the first place.