Terms and conditions can damage the customer experience

You’ve seen the ad, you’ve had the emails and now you’ve decided to take the plunge. But as you click “I have read and agreed…”, you notice the small print – all six pages of it. Do you read it? If so, do you understand it?

Ever found yourself ticking this…

I have read and agree to the terms and conditions.

…without actually reading anything? From our research, you’re not the only one.

The facts

  • Our 2012 survey revealed that just 23% actually read terms and conditions.
  • Of those that do, over 70% of them find T&Cs difficult to understand, and only 1% find them easy.
  • Just 6% of people surveyed think T&Cs are there to protect them.
  • But over 60% think they are there to protect the company.
  • Finally, only 1% of customers feel that companies have human-sounding T&Cs. Over 52% feel that companies communicate in a machine-like way.

The problem

Everyone has Terms and Conditions? So what?

Remember when Instagram changed its T&Cs a couple of months ago? That simple change cost it nearly half its daily users. Their rapid backtrack the following day is a fine example of how T&Cs can seriously impact an organization’s bottom line.  That’s just one reason why they matter.

Our survey clearly showed that many customers view small-print as trickery. They cite stories about companies using complex language to lock customers into lengthy contracts, or sell them add-on services that they didn’t want or need. Customers are losing trust – and are starting to fight back.

Customers used to be relatively powerless when they’d been caught like this. Now, not only do they take to social media rapidly, they increasingly have the law on their side. The recent Payment Protection scandal is a good example, which has so far cost the banking industry almost £12 billion.

It’s vital that T&Cs don’t just protect a business, but that they are simple, clear and understandable to customers.  Once the call centre states “But it’s in our T&Cs…” to an angry customer, it’s far too late.

The solutions

Use simpler, human language

There is huge scope for improving the language and simplicity of terms and conditions. Alan Siegel, a US-based brand expert, asks “How is it we can run the country with a 16-page Constitution, yet it takes 2,074 pages and more than 400,000 words of gobbledygook to present the Senate Healthcare Bill?”. He went one step further and redesigned the US customer credit agreement to be just one page, and had it verified by top consumer credit lawyers.

It’s worth finding ways to cut out the jargon and simplify the language to promote a customer relationship built on trust from the outset. Clearer T&Cs should result in fewer complaints and queries, so reduce call centre, query and complaint costs.

Emphasise that the T&Cs are for the benefit of BOTH parties

Often, organisations put an internal emphasis on the contractual agreements and fail to acknowledge things from the customer’s perspective. By taking a step back and putting themselves on the receiving line of their customer communication, they’d likely gain a better understanding of its importance. Would they be happy to receive that long-winded, legalese letter with six pages of complicated T&Cs?

Customers want to know that the company they are doing business with is on their side, constantly looking out for their best interests. They want to feel the people behind the letters are allies, people they can rely on and feel comfortable doing business with. If it’s made clear that the purpose of the T&Cs is to protect the customer as well as themselves, companies have a fighting chance of gaining customers’ trust and respect.

Make the customer feel special

Retention matters – particularly as the costs of acquisition rise year on year.  It’s no good investing in wooing customers only to drop them into an impersonal, systems-centred, internal-facing comms process once they’ve bought. Customers want care and attention to detail, not non-personalised automation. They want to be treated like humans, not elements in a process.

That’s why it’s vital that ALL operational communications should make customers feel unique, helping build the personalised, customer-centric journey which is becoming so important to a successful retention model.

Communicate like a human, not a machine

T&Cs are vital to the customer relationship, but too often they detract from a positive customer experience. Overly long, overly complex T&Cs set the relationship up for a fall, and in some case can have a huge impact on the bottom line when customers take to the social channels (which is happening more and more).

We’ve worked with regulators, lawyers and compliance departments and we know that with a shift in perspective, a more human-centered approach and some thoughtful planning, it’s possible to turn your T&Cs from a commercial necessity to a valuable part of the overall customer experience. Re-humanise those legal documents to create a more positive customer experience, and create a clear advantage over competitors who are still wallowing in the legal quagmire.

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