How to speak like your customers speak

In 2003, I found out that my mum and dad didn’t know how to use a computer mouse. It came as a surprise to all three of us really.

They’d heard about online holiday deals, and wanted a piece of the action, having only ever booked through a travel agent.

It was to be their first holiday for three years, after putting their life on hold to pay my university tuition fees, so I was only too happy to help.

Plus, like the youngest member of most families, I was seen as a technical genius, and the only person who could steer my parents towards this beach break they were longing for.

Teletext Holidays

We huddled around my computer desk and I opened Internet Explorer. EasyJet was only a few years old back then, and Teletext Holidays had just launched their new website, so I decided to head there.

But first, I needed the toilet.

“Here you go mum,” I said. “Just wait for the Teletext Holidays page to finish loading and then use the mouse to move the cursor on the screen, then left click anywhere you see a link, and that’ll take you to a page with more info.”

I thought I explained it easily enough, and off to the loo I went.

A minute or two later, hearing a little commotion, I headed back into the room.

A mouse magic trick

My mum was sitting at my desk, holding the mouse a foot above the desk, wafting it in front of the computer screen like some sort of magic trick.

“But… what… how…” I was speechless. My mum was laughing. My dad was chuckling too, even though deep down we all knew he didn’t have a clue either.

“Mum, how do you not know how to use a mouse?”

That’s when it dawned on me.

I’d spent so much time telling her what to do on screen that I’d failed to consider the most important part – does she actually know how to use the mouse?

I should’ve started by saying: “Put the mouse flat on the mat like this…” because to her, ‘cursors’, ‘left clicks’ and ‘links’ were all gobbledegook. I might as well have been speaking Japanese.

Are you guilty of this too?

Businesses all over the world fall into the trap of filling their website and marketing materials with words that their customers don’t understand.

Have a think about your website. How often do you use:

  • Industry-standard phrases that new customers may not know
  • In-house terms that are only familiar to you and your staff
  • Acronyms without explaining what they mean

I took it for granted that my mum knew how to use a mouse. But she’d been a cleaner and care assistant most of her life, so why would she?

Are you taking it for granted that your customers understand how your business works, or what your products do, or what they should do next on your website?

Know who you’re speaking to

The only way to speak in a way your customers understand is to understand your customers. Know what they like, what they read, what TV programmes they watch, what they had for breakfast and what they could be having for breakfast a year from now.

How? Ask them. Listen to them. Conduct some market research. Send a survey out to your list with an incentive for completing it. Grill them when you’re selling to them. The ace Sticky Branding has lots of info on this.

Knowing exactly who they are allows you to tailor both your tone and your words in a way that appeals to them, engages them and guides them through the entire sales process without a hiccup.

This last bit is where I can help. I’m expert in tailoring tones of voice and language for any audience.

If your website, emails or printed pieces are turning customers off, get in touch and I’ll sprinkle some wordy magic on them. Just don’t ask me how to use a mouse.

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