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  • Katy McKay

How to speak so your customers understand

A year ago I upgraded my old phone to the latest fancy model. I’m not really what they call an ‘early adopter’, so my phone was pretty old, but had some life left in it.


However, my dad was still using his Nokia brick and he got serious FOMO and asked if he could have my old model. Of course I obliged.


I said, “You need to get a nano SIM from your provider, because you still have a massive SIM in your phone that won’t fit this new one. If you’re going to change providers then you’ll have to call them and ask for your PAC code”.


Blank face.


He said “How do I get all my contacts and pictures off this phone (bear in mind reader, that this is a Nokia 6300 and the pictures on it are mainly of his thumb) and on to this smartphone?”


Katy: “Have you saved them on to your laptop?”

Dad “No, how do I do that?”

Katy “Could you maybe save all your stuff into the cloud?”


That’s when shit got real. “Where is this cloud?” “Where do my pictures go?” “Who is in charge of this cloud?” It went on like this for a long time. Hours turned to days turned to weeks and is now just a common theme to all our conversations. All. The. Time.


What I’m getting at is that I shouldn’t have just presumed that he knew what the ‘cloud’ was. Or even what a smartphone does.


I should have started by telling him all the cool stuff that a smartphone does that his brick phone didn't. And crucially, I should have asked him whether he cared about all that stuff.


What I’m getting at is:


Does your business do this too?


It’s easy for your business to fall into this trap. When it’s you the business owner doing the writing, it’s hard for you to imagine that your customers might be nothing like you. When you’re in an industry, whether that’s plumbing, yoga, education, you name it - you’re used to talking just to colleagues.


I’m sure you’ve heard all this before; I know you’re shaking your head at this right now, but I say it because I see it day in, day out. It’s easy to forget that most people aren’t familiar with industry-speak and acronyms. Even when your customers are familiar with the jargon, it still makes it a chore to read.


Have a scout around your website. Do you use:

  • Phrases that only industry peeps will know

  • Acronyms without explaining what they mean

  • Long sentences with lots of academia-sounding words so that people need a dictionary to decipher it

I took it for granted that my dad knew how to set up a smartphone, but he’s never had one, never needed one, so why would he?


Are you taking it for granted that your audience understands your offer, or what your products do, or knows how to use your website?


Choose your audience


This pains a lot of people, but the only way to speak in a way your customers understand is to know who they are.


Your target audience isn’t everyone, that’s impossible.


Once you're clear on the type of customer you want, you can then get to work. Learn about them. Know what they like, where they like to go, what they buy in the supermarket, and which car they dream of driving.


How? Conduct some market research. Send a survey out to your list with an incentive for completing it. Ask them. Knowing exactly who they are allows you to tailor both your tone and your words in a way that appeals to them, engages them and guides them through the buying process.


Well, would you believe it - this last bit is where I can help.


If your website, emails or printed pieces aren’t pulling their weight, get in touch and I’ll sprinkle some wordy magic on them. Just please don’t ask me to explain ‘the cloud’.

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