Why are you talking so weird?

Written by Simon Grover
Robot image for Quietroom website

In financial services, we all know we’re supposed to avoid jargon in customer-facing communications. And some of us are getting reasonably good at doing that.

But we’re still talking weird.

When we get to work, a large proportion of us start using words which, while not jargon, are not words we or anyone else would normally say, unless we’re hanging out at a sci-fi convention.

We do this even when we are trying to be friendly and ‘human’.

In a 10-second internet search I found this example from what claimed to be ‘A clear guide to your retirement options‘, from a source that shall remain nameless:

Further details about each of the options can be found later in this brochure. This does not mean that you must make a choice now. Depending on your circumstances, deferring taking income from your pension savings may be the best option for you. Normally you can use your pension savings to provide an income on or after age 55. Once you have taken the tax-free amount to which you are entitled, you will need to pay tax on the income you receive.

It’s not terrible, and a lot of ordinary people would understand it. The sentences are short. There’s no awful pensions jargon. The reading age is actually fairly low.

But there is much that is not helping. If we want to build relationships with customers or members, if we want them to trust us (not just understand us), we need to sound like them. We need to use their language, not corporate-eeze.

Words and phrases like ‘further details’, ‘deferring’ and ‘receive’ are businessy versions of normal things like ‘more details’, ‘delaying’ and ‘get’. Normal people say ‘I’ and ‘you’ a lot. But we often miss these words out – like in the first sentence above. And normal people don’t use Victorian phrases like ‘to which you are entitled’ either.

If we’re going to make the effort of writing, designing and printing these ‘clear guides’, we should go the extra mile. It’s not enough to be clear. At Quietroom, we talk about being clear, vivid and real – so your story makes sense, your ideas come to life, and your message sticks. We need to build trust, so customers turn to us for help and believe what we say. To do that, we need to use language that members use themselves.

Otherwise, they’ll just turn to someone else who sounds less, well, weird.

Other things you might like

The new simpler annual statement for pension schemes, and how we wrote it

Six bits of copy I wish I’d written

Our latest animation: Where pension money goes