Have you ever received a letter from a government department, bank, or utilities company that was so hard to understand that you had to pick up the phone and ask someone to translate it into plain English for you?
Have you ever picked up a procedures manual in your workplace to find out the answer to a simple question, only to give up after sifting through the jargon-ridden contents page?
Have you ever given up on an applying for a bank account, car loan, or even a job, because the guidelines for completing the stacks of forms were just too intimidating?
Have you ever thought about the cost of these scenarios?
If that government department, bank, or utilities company has to employ a workforce to be available around the clock to answer your queries, how much does that cost?
If you give up on seeking advice from a manual at work and this results in a simple but crucial error being made, how much does that cost?
If banks or employers are losing clients or potential employees because the paperwork is too overwhelming, how much does that cost?
The precise cost of these sorts of problems is difficult to quantify. But in his book, ‘Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please’, Joseph Kimble offers up some pretty compelling case studies that make it difficult to deny that clear communication does, indeed, save time and money.
For example, the United States’ Department of Veterans Affairs made a saving of approximately $40,000 per year by editing one letter which requested documentation for processing pension claims. This saving was made because the new, edited version of the letter was clear and precise in its request for documentation and its guide to deadlines, and therefore the number of phone calls querying the content of the letter dropped dramatically. For a government department that sends out hundreds, if not thousands of letters, imagine the savings that could be made.
In the United Kingdom, the postal service; Royal Mail, saved £500,000 in just nine months by clarifying wording on a re-direction of mail form. Before editing, there was an 87% error rate when customers completed the form, which of course cost Royal Mail huge sums of money to reprocess.
Also in the UK, British Telecom managed to reduce the number of complaints and enquiries regarding telephone bills by 25%, simply by reorganising the layout and language of their customers’ phone bills.
The examples continue and you can take a closer look here. Keep in mind that these examples come from countries where English is the native language. Imagine the potential savings in countries such as the UAE, where English proficiency is rated as ‘very low’.
Kimble concludes that:
“(P)lain language saves money and pleases readers: it is much more likely to be read and understood and heeded- in much less time. It could even help to restore faith in public institutions.”
He continues, “But the trouble runs so deep……. that it will take a universal commitment to fix it. It will take a cultural change, one that enshrines clarity and simplicity. Start today.”
English Matters can help your organisation to make that change. Find out how here.