A forgotten detail of building the brand

For years now I’ve been using the example of terms and conditions when I talk to organisations about customer experience issues. It’s a great illustration of how organisations somehow expect their customers to be a different kind of people than they are themselves.

When was the last time you read a terms and conditions agreement? I’m guessing that would be sometime around never. So why on earth do you expect your customers to do it?

But this week’s missive isn’t directly about customer experience. This week I’m looking at what it would take to get people to be able to read them (want to read them might be one bridge too far). And the formula for this act of magic is simplicity and clarity.

Just making something simple isn’t too hard. Getting clarity can take work. Doing both of them requires time and effort. And that is time and effort few organisations can be bothered with, especially in those seemingly insignificant places where they think people won’t look?

It’s next to impossible to buy any product or service these days without having to agree to the requisite five or 30+ page (yes looking at you Apple) document of legal mumbo jumbo. It’s not like you have a choice anyway. Just agree and move on.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. What’s wrong with writing a terms and conditions agreement that’s easy to understand and actually helps to build your brand result? That makes promises you can and want to keep.

I was working to clarify and simplify a terms and conditions agreement for a client and discovered a clause that when put in plain English could easily have said “if we don’t send you the right products or miss a part of your order and you don’t tell us about it within seven days then it’s your bad luck…”!

I’m sure there was a very good reason for the lawyer who drew up the agreement to insert that clause. But for my client who has relationships and friendly, helpful service as pillars of what they care about, it couldn’t have been more out of sync.

This is a more nitty gritty illustration of the extreme ownership I talked about last week. Terms and conditions are a series of promises. Make sure those promises are ones you can and want to keep and stating them in simple and clear language that can be understood by anyone. This is as much a brand-building activity as the design of the product and the ad used to sell it in the first place.

What a lost opportunity to stand out and deliver one of the customer experience pockets of “delight” that people so love to go on about. Because it’s when you get down below the sizzle of campaign rhetoric that too many organisations fail push what they care about all the way to the corners.

Dig even a few inches down and you start to run into things that create little niggles of doubt. For every “friendly service” promise I can show you a place in that organisation where it is anything but.

There is one group who is serious about making the forgotten documents of organisations clear and simple, revolutionising processes along the way. US group Siegel and Gale have a “simplification” area that has been tackling these kinds of issues for decades. You can check out their work here (click on simplification under services).

I am not, for one minute suggesting that people ditch lawyers and get copywriters to draw up terms and conditions agreements. However, getting a plain English translation of these kinds of documents (with appropriate legal oversight) would go a long way to getting people to read them. And in the process demonstrate that the organisation is serious about the promises they are making. They might even become something people talk about (in a good way)! Hey, a girl can dream right?

Have you run into a terms and conditions statement that doesn’t make your head explode? Share a link in the comments section. I’d love to hear about organisations who take the time to make them simple and clear.

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


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