Thursday, August 28, 2008

Writing can make or break the sale

Clear writing will help you close sales, especially online. Unclear writing can distract your prospective customers just when they are about to press the CHECKOUT button.

Example: When an online customer of Martel Electronics is about to check out, he is shown the names, photos and prices of several products. Above the gallery is this explanation:

“The items Below [sic] are not in your basket they [sic] are suggestions![sic]”

The frivolous exclamation point probably does not distract the typical reader; overuse of exclamation points has become a familiar symptom of the ever-increasing childishness of businessmen today. But the strange capitalization probably does distract the typical reader.

Worst of all is the lack of any punctuation after basket. When the reader takes in the word-combination “your basket they,” he becomes confused. Eventually he may perceive that the sentence contains two independent clauses (or he may just abandon the sale and go to one of Martel’s competitors).

Example: When an online customer of Taaffe Photo is about to check out, he is warned:

“All International orders must fax a copy of their Credit Card and Passport to 718-230-1982 or Order Processing will be delayed.”

The typical reader will be distracted by the thought of orders (not people) faxing copies and the thought of orders (not people) possessing credit cards and passports. Also, the reader will wonder why the writer uses plural forms – after all, the reader is only one person.

This writer lacks empathy. He thinks of his customers as orders, not as people. And he thinks of them in the aggregate (plural) not in the specific (you, the person who is about to place this order). He should have written this, or something close to it:

If you are ordering from outside the United States of America, please fax a copy of your credit card and passport to us at 718-230-1982. If you omit this step, it will delay your order.

The Takeaway: Sloppy writing can distract or irritate your customer. If it is very sloppy, like the two examples here, it may lead your customer to conclude that you are stupid and therefore unreliable. He may abandon the order and go to your competition. But there is one thing he will not do: email or phone you to inform you that your bad writing lost you his business. Therefore, never assume that the lack of complaints about your writing means that your writing is perfectly clear. Remember, arrogance (the opposite of empathy) is the basis of all errors in writing.

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