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    Faced with maturing markets and increased competition, many companies are seeking to differentiate themselves by enhancing their customer experience, but those efforts might be misguided.

    That’s not because customer experience is a poor source of competitive differentiation (to the contrary, it appears to be a compelling driver of shareholder value). Rather, it’s because companies tend to overlook key components of the experience—elements that may appear mundane but actually exert a meaningful influence on customer perceptions.

    Documents often represent one of the most frequent and prominent touchpoints that companies have with their customers.

    Part of the problem is that executives are easily enamored by customer experience improvement tactics that are buzzworthy: big data predictive analytics, artificially intelligent chatbots, transformational customer relationship management (CRM), or mobile-friendly digital engagement, just to name a few examples. Less “glamorous” initiatives—such as billing statement redesigns, correspondence rewrites, or sales proposal reformatting—struggle to garner much attention. That’s an issue, because these static documents often represent one of the most frequent and prominent touchpoints that companies have with their customers.

    Many businesses, however, view such documents as mere administrative communications. From the customer’s perspective, though, these documents are the experience—or, at least, a significant part of it. A classic example of this dynamic comes from the “explanation of benefits (EOB)” statements sent out by health insurers. Every time an insured receives medical care, an EOB is triggered. In theory, EOBs are meant to explain what a practitioner charged, what insurance covered (and didn’t cover), how much the insured is responsible for paying, and why. In practice, many EOBs are practically indecipherable (just look at this example, which was recognized by the Center for Plain Language as one of the most confusing customer statements on the planet).

    EOBs confound rather than clarify, generating more questions than they answer. They even make IRS tax forms look like the most elegant communication pieces ever devised. EOBs are widely ridiculed and deservedly so.

    What’s fascinating, though, is that for most consumers, the EOB is the face of their health insurer. It is, by far, the most frequent touchpoint they have with the company that covers their medical expenses. Yet, few insurers treat it as such and, instead, continue to issue EOBs that cement health insurers’ position at the bottom of most all customer experience industry rankings.

    Businesses discount the power that the written word has in shaping customer perceptions.

    This is an issue that transcends any one industry. Businesses in virtually all verticals simply discount the power that the written word has in shaping customer perceptions. As a Yale and Stanford study once documented, something as simple as the readability of a font in product marketing materials can drive significant changes in consumer purchase behavior. Subconsciously, people see a difficult-to-read font as a cue that the purchase decision itself is difficult—so they defer making a decision.

    Yes, you read that right: Use a clean, readable font in your marketing materials and you’ll start converting more prospects into customers. However, it goes beyond font choice. It’s about overall cognitive fluency in written communications. The way our brains are wired, we prefer things that are easy to think about rather than difficult to think about. When faced with a printed document, an email, or even a webpage that exacts a high cognitive load, our brains essentially get paralyzed—and just tell us to walk away and not deal with it. That’s hardly a good recipe for engaging prospects or customers.

    Conversely, when written information is easy to interpret (meaning it’s clear in visual design, language, and architecture), people are attracted to it. We’re more inclined to trust it (and the company sending it). We’re more likely to view the communications experience as a positive one.

    Clarity also means we’re less likely to have questions about the communication, which helps lower operating expenses by reducing stress on a firm’s infrastructure. Imagine how many unnecessary phone calls companies could preempt if their correspondence, bills, and statements were so clear that they actually obviated the need for customers’ inquiries.

    The development of crisp, clear, and cognitively fluent communications should be a central component of any customer experience improvement strategy. Excelling in this regard enables companies to not just deliver a better brand experience but to do so at a lower cost. While these communication projects might appear mundane, monotonous, perhaps even boring, don’t be misled. They are an extremely practical and effective means of differentiating what may be one of the most common touchpoints you have with your customers.

    With every letter, email, or document, companies have a chance to either enhance customer loyalty or erode it. Don’t squander this opportunity to shape your organization’s brand experience: capitalize on it by focusing on the “write stuff.”

    Jon Picoult is Founder and Principal of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress their customers and build brand loyalty. As a consultant and keynote speaker, he has advised thousands of business leaders across some of the world’s foremost brands. Contact Jon at www.watermarkconsult.net or follow him on Twitter @JonPicoult.

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