Communications tips: are you making things too hard for your customers?

Explain what you do and how. Seems simple? For many startups, scaleups and small businesses it is a pretty huge challenge, especially if you throw tech into the mix. We cornered the king of clear communications -  BizDojo @ GridAKL resident Ian Howarth from Directly and asked him. So how do you do this whole clear communications thing? 


Ian, and the rest of the directly team 

Ian, and the rest of the directly team 

Every message you send has some complexity. It can be complex for you to simplify it, or it can be complex for your customer to understand. We call this the “Conservation of Complexity” – and taking the easy route isn’t good for customer engagement.

Ever read something that sent your brain into an instant coma?

“Where the Rate for Age option was selected, the premiums will be recalculated at each policy anniversary based on:

  • Your age
  • The amount of cover you have
  • Our current premium rates.

“Where the Consumer Price Index (CPI) option was selected, the premium will increase annually in line with the movement in the CPI.

The amount of cover you hold for benefits categorised as ‘Level’ will remain the same.”

Ok. I’m back. Blink a few times and get that glaze off your eyeballs.

This letter excerpt is a classic case of throwing complexity over the customer’s fence. What if I started my policy 15 years ago and I have no idea what “Rate for Age option” I chose? What even is a “Rate for Age”? Do I need to pay more? What’s going on? Where am I?

Complexity kills customer engagement

We think about this as the “Conservation of Complexity”. It’s a simple concept.

Every message has a certain amount of complexity. As a communicator, you get to decide who takes on that complexity: you, or your customer.

You can take responsibility for the complexity by simplifying your message and making it as easy as possible to understand. Or, you can just load it on the customer.

But when you give your customers the heavy lifting, they probably won’t even try. People don’t like not understanding something. And if they have to work too hard to understand your message, you can bet they’ll just ignore it altogether.

And of course, it’s not just a one-on-one with you and a customer. You’re probably communicating with thousands of customers – all of them scratching their heads, trying to work out what you want.

So how do you simplify?

1. Define your goal

What do you want your customer to do? Keep that single goal in mind, and stick to it. Cut everything else, or put it on your FAQs section or a website link.

2. Need to know basis

Focus on what your customer needs to know right now to reach your action goal. If you can, confirm their success at that point and, if necessary, tell them any further steps.

Let them know clearly what action they need to take now, and what they can expect as a result.

3. Keep your knowledge bias in check

You know your product inside out. But your customers have a million other things on their mind and are coming into this cold. Cover off any concepts they may not be familiar with, even if it’s just a quick refresh.

4. Watch your language

Keep your sentences short and your words shorter. Simple language, clear paragraph structures and an active voice go a long way. Numbered steps are fine.

5. Talk to them directly

For the love of God, don’t start your messages with “Dear customer”. Write like you’d talk to them: like people. Use “you”, not “the user”. It brightens your language and is much easier to write.

And try not to order people around. Words like “must” and “need to” raise hackles.

6. Respect your existing relationships

When you can, create variable-based communications from your customer data. You can target messages directly, and push relevant information forward in your message. For example, that insurance letter could have told me the plan I was on, and any change to my premium. Simple.

Building a variable, data-driven communication is a good investment. It’s a communications machine, ready for you to use next time.

7. Use pictures, diagrams and infographics

People assess their communications with a “first impressions” glance. If your message is all text (like this blog…) it’s easy to reject. How can you add visual appeal? Use diagrams or infographics to simplify your concepts.

8. Replace long descriptions with animation or video

Some concepts are easier to understand through video or animation. They’re more engaging than text. They can also be permanent sales tools on your website and on social media.


Don't have the capacity to deal with the above? Contact the crew at Directly... directly. They specialise in making the complex simple.  Their team are big on communication that leads to action and making complex propositions compelling using strategy, writing, animation, design and code.