Caller: “I can’t figure out how to ask for a return on your website.”
Customer service representative: “Thank you for calling. I can facilitate the completion of that process by helping you navigate through our tool.”
Wouldn’t it have been simpler if the customer service representative had simply said, “Thank you for calling. I’d be happy to help you with that”?
Writing is more than just who, what, where, when, and why. Those important Ws can be buried under legalese, hidden by passive voice, and covered in convoluted prose that would make Faulkner proud.
Your scripts should NOT be convoluted. They should be easy to read, easy to understand, and useful. Following the principles of plain language will help you deliver scripts that help both the customer service representative (CSR) and the caller communicate clearly and quickly.
Plain language is more than just a good idea: For federal agencies, plain language is required by law. Former President Barack Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 mandating that federal agencies use “clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” Plain language can help you write contact center scripts that adhere to the same law without being boring.
With plain language, callers have a better chance of getting the information they need and understanding it.
The following are some plain language guidelines to make your scripts informative and direct:
Abbreviations and Jargon
Avoid them! Callers might not understand them; assume they don’t. You might know what DME, SCRUM, and PDU mean, but many callers probably don’t. Spell out any acronyms and simplify any industry jargon. Acronyms can also have multiple definitions that can confuse callers. IRA can mean an individual retirement account, the Irish Republican Army, or the Illinois Restaurant Association.
Use active voice when possible. In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action.
Active: I shot the sheriff.
Passive: The sheriff was shot by me.
There are times, however, when passive voice is helpful. Passive voice avoids placing blame, as in this sentence: Four prescriptions are on file. It’s not clear or important who ordered the prescriptions, but it’s important to know about the number of prescriptions.
Passive is also useful when the person doing the action might be unknown, but the action is important information, as in this sentence: An error was made when your request was processed.
Who are you writing for? What is their education level? Will they understand your language? Callers range in age, background, education, and experience. Simplify your information to connect with your callers quickly. Aim for a broader audience instead of writing to a narrow group.
Your scripts need to be clear. Don’t confuse the caller with superfluous words or phrases. Use lists, examples, tables, charts, and even illustrations to make your material easier to understand whenever possible. Many of your phone CSRs might be visual learners, so adding visual variety to your copy helps. An easy-to-navigate chart can present a lot of information and allow anyone answering calls to quickly find the specific information for each call. When your CSRs can find the information quickly, your callers get their answers faster, enhancing customer satisfaction.
Use the same word for a specific thought or object throughout the script. Don’t refer to an employee in one instance, an agent in the next, and a customer service representative at the end. Pick one term and stick with it so that your caller doesn’t get confused. Structure your information in a consistent manner, as well. If you use scenarios to explain information, use a scenario for each example. The caller will expect it and understand the information more quickly if you are consistent.
Phrase your sentences in logical order: Subject/verb/direct object/indirect object.
The woman [subject] bought [verb] insurance [direct object] from a new agent [indirect object].
Correctly ordered, the pieces of the sentence pop in place to make perfect sense.
Your sentences in a paragraph should also follow a logical order. Don’t start with the ending. Start at the beginning and walk your callers through the information they need. Reviewing information in the same order it was presented helps, too.
Share the most important information first. Are you asking someone to call? Pay a bill? Schedule an appointment? Start with that and then share the details. If you need the caller to take action, state that clearly, then explain why and how.
Use “you” when addressing the caller: You need to resubmit your paperwork; you need to call soon; you need to pay this amount. When you use a pronoun correctly, you personalize your scripts and speak directly to your callers.
Break up your text with white space, short paragraphs, and headings. Your phone CSRs are probably scanning each script, searching for the material they need to share with the caller. Long blocks of text can be daunting even to the most experienced CSRs. If it’s difficult to read, it’s difficult to share with callers.
Use short sentences and simple words. Replace “Please contact someone at our organization at your earliest possible convenience” with “Please call us today.”
Spell check will often flag wordy phrases, but once you start to look for them, you’ll spot them, too. If you step away from your writing and work on something else, you’ll have fresh eyes when you return and revise, and you’ll be more likely to see those extraneous words.
Write and speak in a positive manner. Say: “You can apply for the first 30 days,” rather than, “You can’t apply after 30 days.”
It’s always better to hear it might be sunny than it might be cloudy. Spread sunshine when you can. Your CSR might be the only person the caller speaks to that day.
Create a new sentence, paragraph, or section when you start a new topic in your scripts and calls. Don’t bury an important point in the ninth sentence of a long paragraph. Your callers expect to hear the important details early on during a call. Use signal words so callers know that they might be on hold (“one moment please”) or that you are nearing the end of the call (“Is there anything else?”).
Fancy or complex words often exclude people (and are sometimes intended to). Further, phone CSRs might stumble over complex terms in scripting, and callers might have more trouble understanding them over the phone. Substitute a short word for a complex word or phrase when you can.
|a number of||some, many|
|afford an opportunity||allow, let|
|at the present time||now|
|in order to||to|
|in relation to, with reference to, pertaining to||about|
It’s not always easy to explain complex information in easy-to-understand scripts, but plain language principles can help you.
For more information, there are many plain language resources and groups online. A great place to start is the Center for Plain Language, centerforplainlanguage.org. There are also software tools to help keep it simple. Grammarly.com offers online and mobile grammar guidance.