Talking Your User’s Language

Yesterday I got an email from my local bank about some future changes they’ll be making to their website. One of those changes will be a responsive design. The part that struck me was that a small local bank actually wrote that the new site “will be mobile responsive.” I’m sure internally they referred to the new design as responsive, and that pretty quickly everyone involved learned what a responsive design was. But – do most customers of this local bank have any idea what “mobile responsive” means? Probably not.

In their defense, the next sentence was “That means once you log in the page will respond to the size of the screen no matter if you’re viewing it on a phone, iPad, laptop, or anything else.” Why bother explaining when you can just skip the internal industry jargon and explain to them that it will work better on any device that they use?

I think this is really common. Most people don’t know that they’re doing it, they assume that the phrases and acronyms that they know are common to everyone else.

This isn’t easy to avoid. For us, it’s been a constant battle. I can write whatever I want, however I want on this blog. It doesn’t really matter, and I’m writing to a relatively narrow audience. When it comes to copy on Detailed Image that will influence sales and customer service though, I’m obsessed with clarity and brevity. Sometimes it’s a useful to remind yourself that the “average” American reads at a 7th or 8th grade level. What you write needs to be easily comprehended. For this reason, most copy gets combed over and picked apart by 3+ members of our team.

By comparison, on our About page we reference the launch of our responsive design in 2013 without actually saying the phrase:

In 2013 we launched our redesigned website to provide you with a superior shopping experience. The site now looks better and functions more efficiently, whether you’re on your computer, phone, or tablet, saving you time and money.

Maybe a better example is items that we dropship. We don’t stock extraordinarily large items, such as steam cleaners, water de-ionizer systems, and the like. They would take up a ton of space, they don’t sell all that frequently, and they’re a challenge to ship. Instead, whenever a customer buys one of these items we contact the manufacturer who then ships the item direct to the customer. Our site handles these purchases differently and makes it clear to the customer that the item will be shipping from the manufacturer instead of us. If you’re familiar with e-commerce at all, I could say “dropship” and you’d know that this was exactly what I was talking about.

We have a FAQ on the topic that explains this to customers. What we don’t ever do is use the word “dropship” because that is not common vernacular. I’m guessing most of our customers have never even heard the word, yet alone have an understanding of what it is. We always say “shipping directly from the manufacturer”, or some variation of that. Over the years each time we’ve revamped this system I’ve made it a point to make sure the word dropship doesn’t appear anywhere – on our site, in our automated emails, or even in our standard customer service responses.

4 comments on Talking Your User’s Language

  1. Rob says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with you here I’m afraid.

    I think the bank handled it perfectly. I think avoiding using the correct terminology to dumb down sentences means that people will never learn the correct terminology. The bank used both the industry correct term and described the effects the change would have in a way that consumers would understand. This educated the consumers and means if another business just said “responsive” without an explanation of what that means, the bank customers that have seen this email might remember what it said and have learned something. Personally I’d be happy if I’d written that email as I think it gently educates but it still clear. Perhaps if more companies wrote like that, in 5 years we’d just be able to use the word “responsive” with zero explanation and people would understand.

    I think the same is true of many new technologies and words people are exposed to – at first they’re an industry term and then once people have been exposed to them enough they learn the meaning and it becomes common vocabulary. Imagine if we tried avoiding using all the correct terms for parts of a car and instead used roundabout ways of describing things. Imagine if your driving instructor said “press the stalk lever down to intermittently flash the lights on the side of the vehicle to show other road users your intention to turn right” instead of “indicate right”, or some other similarly convoluted way of describing wifi without just saying wifi. (Incidentally – I’ve had conversations with people for whom wifi==internet. They would say “plug in the wifi cable” for plugging in an Ethernet/RJ45 cable for instance!)

    In terms of dropshipping – I see that as much more of a B2B term and actually many of the vendors I’ve spoken to at business fairs don’t even know it. They tend to use words like “order fulfilment” or “direct order fulfilment”, “3rd party fulfilment” or “blind shipping”. As there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what the correct term actually is, it makes sense to play it safe and use the descriptive wording you have.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Fair enough Rob, all good points. I’m not sure “responsive design” is terminology that the general population will ever need to know like wifi, but the point is well made.

  2. Timothy Coleman says:

    This is something I get a chuckle out of at times too. My favorite is “we launched our new website!”

    Great, why do I, as a consumer, care? If there’s no benefit stated or offer provided it’s just the team internally trying to get a pat on the back for something that should go unnoticed if done correctly.

    I know people in marketing teams that don’t know what a responsive design site is, definitely over shot the communication on that one.

    Having been fortunate enough to watch a lot of qualitative user research, the one big take away I always get is how unaware consumers are and how little attention they pay, if it doesn’t benefit them they simply don’t care.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Well put Tim! To your points, it’s a good idea to write from the perspective of “how does this benefit my customer?”, and if it doesn’t then skip the announcement. If you announce anything and everything, it will be that much harder to get attention when you announce something really big/important/impactful.

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