The Importance of Customer-Centric Language

I recently stumbled upon an excellent article by Anand Srinivasan. It explains the vital importance of using 'customer-centric' language in your marketing communications materials. I think this is one of the best articles I have ever read on this particular subject, so I am sharing an abridged version of the article here.

Good communication is always about the listener. It’s always about the reader. It’s always about the customer. It’s not about you.
This article is about how to speak your customers’ language, but there is one thing you should remember when you finish reading: It’s all about the customer, not about you. Here’s why.
Long before the internet, companies would write pamphlets and letters about “our products” and “our solutions” and “We are the specialists”. But nobody goes to your website or store because of your products or services. They go there because of their problems or desires.
There is something they need, or there is something they want. If your product or service can fill that need or desire, bravo! You get a sale.
So customer-centric is the way to go. Here are four ways to speak your customers’ language.

1) Use the right pronouns
This is an easy way to quickly check if you are on track. Once you have a web page or brochure or report drafted, do a quick word count of your reader’s pronouns: 
You, your, yours
Then compare that to the word count for your own pronouns: 
I, us, my, me, we, our, mine
If your own pronouns outnumber your reader’s pronouns, your message will come across as being self-centered.
We are all self-centered. Rather than fall prey to your own self-centeredness, learn to harness your customers’ self-centeredness. In fact, you should have at least twice as many reader pronouns as business pronouns. If not, it’s time to edit.
Editing to change pronouns is not all that hard. Here’s an example.
Our xxxxxxxxxx machine cleans up even the most stubborn stains.
You can easily clean up even the most stubborn stains with the xxxxxxxxxx machine

2) Use common words
Have you ever noticed how business writing often uses big words and long sentences?
In real life, nobody "utilises" things. They USE things. In real life, nobody goes out "to arrange for the repair of their car." They get their car fixed.
But when we start writing for business, we automatically start trying to add formalities to our writing. But these “formalities” are not actually more formal. They are just more cumbersome. They make your writing feel heavy to wade through.
As a result you lose readers who might have become customers. A plain language edit for your business and marketing materials can therefore be very profitable.

3) Do a plain language edit
Big words and cumbersome sentence structures are not the only barriers businesses place between themselves and their readers. In fact, the biggest barrier is quite literally a 'wall'. It’s the dreaded 'wall of text'. This is when several sentences, sometimes very long sentences, are blocked together to form a huge block of text.
That’s intimidating. Here’s how the customer's mind works when confronted with that kind of page:
  "Ooh, that’s a whole lot of text."
  "Reading that could be a lot of work."
  "I don’t feel like working right now."
A plain language edit comprises many steps. It’s not just about the words. It’s about content design overall.

4) Avoid jargon and acronyms
When somebody lands on your page or picks up your brochure, do they understand you? They might know nothing about your industry. 
For example, they might be buying a computer from you, but they might have no idea what DDR3 means. They might not know the difference between a CPU and a GPU. They might not even know what HDMI or USB means.
On the other hand, many of your customers are educated and are familiar with your terminology. This is especially true in B2B communications. You don’t want to appear unprofessional. You need to use common industry terminology.
What can you do? Here are 4 options:
a) Spell out the term the first time, with the acronym in brackets, like this: business to business (B2B). After that, use just the acronym. Best to do this only with very technical texts that have many long strings of terms.
b) Explain the term the first time you use it.
c) Add a title tag to all acronyms (which is worth doing anyway). Make sure you use a web designer who understands accessibility issues.
d) Link the word’s first appearance to a page that explains it. This does not interfere with the reading, but it does help newcomers understand your message.

The first thing anybody learns in business (probably because most people are customers before they become entrepreneurs) is that the customer is always right. But we forget that when we start writing.
If you speak the customer’s language, you’ll get more readers. If you make it easy for customers to read your message, they will. If you get customer-centric, you’ll sell more. But just don’t use words like “customer-centric” too much!!

Anand Srinivasan is a marketing consultant from Bangalore, India