(Short) Words to live by …

I am in the midst of writing up UPA proposals. Wordsmithing, as they say.

I’m mulling my commitment to transparency, plain language and even uncharacteristic clarity (repeated aloud specifically because people will remind me.)

I’m acutely aware of the absence of my trusty editor, Doug.

I thought perhaps a quick reread of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” might temper my tendency toward purple prose. Maybe it will also help you shape your abstract as well. In case I need to review it.

The key passage is  below.
The rest of of Orwell’s  essay, for the not so faint at heart, can be found here.
When you’re done with reading, maybe we can talk Grice.


From Politics and the English language

…. one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


Your call may be recorded …

Today I spent a lot of time chatting with IVRs.  Two of those experiences stuck out because they were positive IVR experiences. Two in a row.  Somebody … no, two people,  who are in control … understand that IVRs are a real part of the customer experience and the content can be designed.

One case sticks out because the design  minimized the message length without compromising the clarity of content or what the caller should do. That goal is not surprising. It saves the organization money. Every second on the line counts. What was interesting was the way they went about minimizing the interaction duration.

The other stuck out for the opposite reason. Someone made a conscious decision to lengthen the industry standard message. The longer message was brilliantly designed to buy indulgence(s), just in case the customer service  wasn’t as stellar as promised.

In the short-as-possible message the word strings for the menu options were not repeated slavishly for each item, as often happens. Instead, some words are omitted. But the omission was  thoughtful. (If you read it out loud and you will get a better sense of the effect.)


Look again … here it is showing the deleted words.


Notice that the sequence starts complete (“For A, say A or press 1”, gets short (E, 5 …) and cycles back to the full structure. There are quite a few options. Over time people (who are not paying close attention, really) forget. But the design protects them from their dual tasking tendencies. At least it did me.  Subtle. Clear. And this design saves several seconds (or more) per call. That multiplies up quickly in IVR ROI-land.

In the the case of the longer-than-absolutely-necessary message, I needed to get to a customer service human. No way around it. But the first thing offered was not a long Pick-1-for …. menu. And it was also not the standard:

Your call may be recorded or monitored.

Instead, the intro message was:

Here at the XX Platinum Customer Care Center we are in a an ongoing effort to improve our quality customer service.  Your call may be taped or monitored  for the coaching and development of our associates….

This message is longer  than the standard message. That’s an added cost.  (Accounting, perhaps, for the speeded speech?) … But the message has an interesting sub-dialog that likely more than returns the additional cost.

I suspect that it is a bit of an inoculation effects. (Like shots … If you are exposed to something in a low, safe level, you are less likely to respond adversely when it appears at a potentially toxic level.

The message embedded in the message is a very low does of  “Sometimes we get it wrong.” Its conveyed as “We know that sometimes we get it wrong. So we are actively coaching and providing feedback to the associates. We are working on making it better.”

In the worst case, where customer service is not as customer oriented as it might be, that little bit of inoculation serves as an implicit,  proactive apology. It likely buys the customer service agent a bit of patience. And by extension, it probably minimizes escalations. Which would translate to ROI.

In the best case, where the customer service agent is polite, professional and effective (my case, btw), you are left thinking, “Hmmm. They are doing pretty well, all things considered. And they are still monitoring for improvement opportunities. This is a company that gets it.”

Its a Win-Win. For a few cents a call.

I suspect, given the quality of the strings, both companies conducted live A|B testing of variations on the messages before they went to full implementation. If not,  they have IVR designers with very good design intuition. For the rest of the organizations out there with IVRs, it is  fairly trivial to design and run limited sampling studies that demonstrate unequivocally that customers can follow the streamlined message effectively (in the first case) and that the additional message content reduces escalation incidences. And that testing woudl be the basis for a concrete ROI report.

We may never know. But in the mean time, it provides hope that other organizations will also realize that deploying evidence-driven designs in their their IVRs could save a bomb … and even (possibly) make customers more friendly.


Moments that make you say, "hmmm."


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