Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brevity


I received an email from the company I use for my infodesign.com.au mailing list. It provides a good example of some of the things to think about in customer communications. I'll start with the original email, unedited other than removal of the company's name.

***

Dear Gerry Gaffney,



You are receiving this email because you have chosen to prepay for [company name], and your prepay balance is running low.

Please be advised that if your account balance is less than the actual amount due for any invoice, your account will automatically be switched to a monthly payment plan and you will be billed at standard monthly rates.

To check your balance on account, login to your account today  and select "My Account".

To add funds to your balance on account, choose the "Add Funds to My Account" option available from the "My Account" screen.

We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. Be assured that we are working hard to make your use of [company name] as enjoyable and productive as possible. As always, thank you for your business.

Best Regards,

***

A first pass is to delete unnecessary text. For example, expressions like “please be advised” are, at best, useless and at worst a source of confusion and ambiguity.

This leave us with the following:

***

Dear Gerry Gaffney,

Your prepay balance is running low.

If your account balance is less than the amount due, your account will automatically be switched to a monthly payment plan and you will be billed at standard monthly rates.

To check your balance, login  and select "My Account".

To add funds, choose the "Add Funds to My Account" option available from the "My Account" screen.

As always, thank you for your business.

Best Regards,

***

This is better, but the key paragraph explaining why I've received the email is unclear. What the email is trying to tell me is that if I don't take action, I'll be switched to a more expensive rate, but it hasn't stated that explicitly.

In addition, the advice to log in and then navigate somewhere is problematic, since once I've followed the link I'm likely to have forgotten where I'm supposed to go next. It would be much better to give me a direct link (which I should reach after providing the appropriate credentials).

Further, there should be no need to both check my balance and top up my account; if the destination Accounts page is well designed, my balance will be clearly displayed while I'm logged on.

So a further refinement leads us to:

***

Dear Gerry Gaffney,

Your prepaid balance is running low. To avoid being switched to more expensive monthly charging, please log in to top up your balance.

As always, thank you for your business.

Best Regards,

***

This verges on being too short, and there's an argument for having more information of a marketing or explanatory nature. This could some immediately before (or instead of) the “thank you” sentence.

By ensuring that the opening paragraph is brief, instructive and actionable, companies can maintain the option of providing further information, while still catering to the needs of the busy customer who just needs to jump into the required action (in this case, topping up the account balance).

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