Words alone can make better business - Business Works
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Words alone can make better business

Neil Taylor, Creative Director, The Writer Research by the UKís largest language consultancy, The Writer, finds the real impact of better writing on businesses: keeping and winning more customers.

The results showed:

  • even great brands can lose customers through poor writing;
  • honest writing is more persuasive than writing thatís merely clear; and
  • a few simple linguistic changes mean customers warm to brands more.

The survey covered 2000 people to test their reaction to a series of customer scenarios, based purely on the writing they would encounter. They blind-tested writing samples from six leading UK brands: three airlines and three retailers, as well as an invented sample from The Writer for each scenario.

Neil Taylor, The Writerís creative director, said, "We hear it all the time when weíre training people. Almost everyone prefers natural writing that has more personality, but they have doubts about how customers will react. So we wanted to measure what happens to the customer experience when you strip away everything but the words."

Handle refunds better and keep more customers

One scenario tested what happens when an airline cancels a flight. When comparing the refund instructions of three leading UK airlines and a sample from The Writer, the research showed that after reading each companyís writing (without knowing which brand had written it):

  • over two thirds were put off flying with Virgin again;
  • over half were put off flying with British Airways again;
  • almost half were put off flying with Ryanair again; and
  • less than half were put off flying after The Writerís 'really natural' version.

Neil says, "This situation is not just about the facts, itís also about showing an understanding of what the customerís feeling. Clearly itís a bad situation. We wanted to see how to minimise the damage. We were aiming for everyday words when we wrote our refund instructions, so we didnít quote legislation in off-putting legal language, but explained what it meant. The others used phrases like 'all monies paid' and 'causes within the carrierís control', which makes ours feel more helpful. We also made it as personal as we could by writing 'we' and 'you', rather than hiding behind 'the passenger' and 'the carrier', which makes ours sound more honest. And we actually said sorry!"

The results suggest that if these airlines wrote better, theyíd retain an average of 12% more customers every time they had to cancel a flight.

The research also tested which airline people liked most after reading the refund instructions without knowing the brands behind the writing and found:
  • 42% prefer the 'really natural' version;
  • 22% opted for Ryanair;
  • 21% picked Virgin; and
  • just 16% liked British Airways.

Neil reckons, "These findings are particularly damning for Virgin because people like their brand so much. Yet when their language doesnít live up to their reputation, it has the power to switch customers off and lose them for good Ė especially in a sticky situation."

Personality is more persuasive

The second scenario tested the impact of language on whether people apply for loyalty cards online. Based on the writing alone:

  • only 7% would apply for a loyalty card from House of Fraser;
  • 16% would apply for a loyalty card from Costa;
  • 23% would apply for a loyalty card from Tesco;
  • but a quarter would choose The Writerís 'really honest' version.

Neil says, "To get people motivated enough to actually do something, we decided to sacrifice a bit of clarity for personality and it paid off. We were deliberately really honest in owning up to the fact that thereís something in it for the company if people keep coming back. We even said 'shop with us (and not them)'. Though people felt Tescoís writing was clearer (25% to our 20%), we pipped them in the end because people warmed more to the writing with more personality. It was more polarising, but ultimately more effective."

The research also asked people to pick which loyalty card of the four they would opt for Ė based on the writing alone Ė if push came to shove. People were on average 20% more likely to pick the card with writing that was most honest:

  • 11% would choose House of Fraserís;
  • 21% would choose Costaís;
  • 28% would choose Tescoís; but
  • well over a third (40%) would choose the imaginary card from The Writer.

Neil concludes, "Businesses are missing a trick with their language. They donít think hard enough about the potential impact of each piece of writing. Because a brandís writing touches customers in so many ways, itís one of the most pervasive and cost-effective ways to keep customers happy when things go wrong. And one of the best ways to help businesses stand out and win new ones."



The Writer is the countryís largest language consultancy. It does three things:
Thinking: to help organisations express their strategy or brand.
Writing: everything from customer letters to annual reports.
Training: to help people become more effective, engaging writers.
For more information, please visit: thewriter.com



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