Customer language

How to improve the customer experience by simplifying your language

15th May 2019

How does the use of language influence the customer experience, and how can you ensure your organisation is speaking your customer's language?

Most businesses can settle, through laziness, habit or other reasons into using their own language when trying to explain and generate demand or understanding for their products and services. Nowhere is this more so than in industries that are somewhat technical in nature, e.g. medicine, web design, architecture, accountancy, tax, insurance, law, engineering, etc, etc.

The Plain Language Network provides a great and very relevant example from the insurance industry:

  • Here’s a piece of sample text that a customer received from their insurance company: “We have recently implemented an enhancement to our computer system that will enable us to provide better service to our valued customers. This has resulted in a slight delay in the processing of your renewal. The difference you will notice is in the payment schedule. Your annual policy premium has been divided over 11 (eleven) months, and as a result your monthly payment will have increased due to the reduced number of monthly instalments.”
  • Now, here’s the text rewritten in plain language: “We are a little late in sending your renewal documents because we have made a change in our computer system in order to provide better service. Your annual premium will now be divided over 11 months instead of 12 so the monthly payment will increase slightly.”

What we can see is that the rewritten text has been written with the customer in mind so that they understand, very clearly, what has happened and what the implications are for them.

Therefore, it is important to remember when communicating with customers that:

  • They will not always understand what you do;
  • They will base their opinions of quality on many things, including how you communicate with them and the language you use – your product or service being just a small part;
  • The non-core areas of your business are very, very important to how your customer perceives you; and
  • Customers will often judge your expertise in areas they do not understand by your excellence in areas which they do.

Therefore, using your customer’s language will go a long way to improving understanding, improving their perception of the service and experience they receive, increase engagement and trust and, eventually, will improve your rate of acquisition and retention.

Insight in action

Here’s some examples that show that even though some businesses and professions are trying to improve their use of language they still have a way to go:

  • In June 2015, the UK’s Royal Pharmaceutical Society released a study into sunscreen use. They found that consumers have a ‘worrying lack of understanding about the degree of sun protection different products provide’ and that as many as 92% of all consumers did not know that the SPF rating displayed on sunscreen labelling does not guarantee good all round protection from potential sun damage. The SPF rating refers to protection from UVB rays only and protection from more harmful UVA rays are typically indicated by another and separate ‘star’ rating.
  • In 2014, the UK consumer group Fairer Finance announced the results of a new survey which found that when customers wanted to open a bank account their terms and conditions ranged from just over 34,000 words (HSBC) to 11,000 words (Nationwide). Customers in the car insurance sector face a similar issue where the range of terms and conditions went from over 37,000 words (Endsleigh) to just under 7,000 words (LV). Why is it that some companies can produce effectively the same terms and conditions between 3 and 5 times shorter than their competitors?
  • In Ireland, in March 2015, Ireland’s National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) launched a health literacy survey which showed that 39% of patients surveyed would prefer doctors, nurses and pharmacists to use less technical and medical jargon and more understandable language. This was up from 33% in research conducted in 2007.

How to use it

It’s easier to talk about your business in the language of your industry. However, for customers that’s not always the easiest thing to understand and makes engaging with them harder.

Here’s some questions to help you figure out whether or not you are speaking your customers language and what you can do about it:

  • Are you operating in an industry that is technical (even a little bit)?
  • Are you speaking in a language that your customer understands? Or, even better, are you talking the customers language? If you were to show a sample of your communication with your customers to someone outside your business or industry, your grandmother say, would they understand it?
  • How do you know if you are doing this consistently? This approach takes time and effort and, so, when in a rush or when things get busy, it’s normal for us to slip back into the language of our profession or, if you like, back into bad habits. So, keep an eye on this regularly monitor if you are communicating in plain language.
  • Want to find out what your customers think? Ask your customers if they understand what you say when you describe your business or your service?


This article is an extract from Adrian Swinscoe's book How to Wow: 68 Effortless Ways to Make Every Customer Experience Amazing. Full of practical tips, inspiring insights and interviews with a wide range of leaders and entrepreneurs, the book shares 68 strategies that will show you how to stand out from your competitors, whatever your business.

Adrian Swinscoe is a customer experience consultant and advisor, and has been growing and developing customer-focused large and small businesses for 20 years. He has previously worked with Shell, FT and The Economist Group as well as advising and consulting numerous other large organisations as well hundreds of smaller businesses to help them engage with their customers, build their customer retention and improve service. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter         


Replies (2)

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By PaulineAshenden
01st Apr 2016 10:20

That’s a great example of how to improve customer service Adrian. It echoes research we carried out about the gap in understanding between consumers and customer service agents. 61% of agents found it difficult to grasp what consumers meant – and 78% of customers said they were frustrated by responses that obviously didn’t understand their query. More in this blog at

Thanks (1)
By LaurenRH
13th Aug 2021 11:51

I appreciate you bringing into the discussion the "way information is shared with customers", particularly in the insurance industry.

I honestly feel they do it on purpose. However, other companies started to pay attention and are starting to convey clear, straightforward messages...and customers are following them...Progressive comes to mind...very easy user experience, from a full digital experience to being able to quickly understand what is covered and what's not.

Buy the way, i recently contributed to an article about customer onboarding and how customers are looking for digital experiences and I would like to leave it here, if someone is interested in the topic:

Thank you for this article.

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