Contact Dan

Customer Experience

Why Language Is Critical In Customer Experience


Wooden cubes with scrambled letters

Every point of communication between a business and its customers is an opportunity to enhance the customer experience. In particular, the language companies use can either educate or confuse. Here are two stories from my own experiences that definitely qualified as confusing.

Gas Rewards Program Uses Confusing Language

At a local gas station, drivers can redeem rewards earned at the grocery store for discounts on gas. The only problem? Redeeming that reward can be a little tricky.

Imagine you drive up to the gas station, get out of the car, and walk over to the fuel pump. The screen says “Swipe Easy Rewards or Easy Pay card now,” except you don’t have an Easy Rewards or Easy Pay card nor do you know what those are.

Then you see three choices associated with buttons next to the screen: Credit, Debit, and Rewards. You choose Rewards because you want to redeem your grocery points.

Gas Rewards Swipe Card

The next screen says “Select Reward,” and again, you face three button choices: Rewards, Jewel ID/FR, and Cancel. You’re pretty sure that “Cancel” isn’t right, but you just chose “Rewards” on the last screen so that one is a bit confusing. Unfortunately, you don’t know what a “Jewel ID/FR” is either, although Jewel is the name of the grocery store. Feeling a bit like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, you choose Rewards again.

Gas Rewards Select Reward Screen

You chose . . . wisely.

The top of the next screen says “Insert Rewards Card” even though you’ve already noted that you don’t have a rewards card. Thankfully, yet another three button choices await you: Alt ID, Manual Entry/Barcode, and Cancel.

Gas Rewards Alt ID Screen

Is this even English?

I’ll spare you the trouble because I spent way too much time going down every option path to figure this out. Guess what an “Alt ID” is?

It’s simply your phone number.

Why couldn’t the opening screen just have said “Enter your phone number”? It would have saved so many steps and so much frustration.

Phrases like “Easy Rewards or Easy Pay card,” “Jewel ID/FR,” “Alt ID,” and “Manual Entry/Barcode” may mean something to company employees and programmers, but they don’t mean anything to customers.

Paying A Speeding Ticket Shouldn’t Be This Hard

I received an automated speeding ticket in the mail from the City of Chicago (oops!). I immediately paid it, dutifully including the Notice Number on the memo of my check as requested.

About two weeks later, I received another notice in the mail for a speeding ticket with the same notice number and the same amount due. I discarded that one because I knew I had already paid for the ticket.

I then received a second notice, and eventually a third. I tried searching the City of Chicago Finance Department website, to no avail. I then called, waiting nearly a half hour on hold. They told me to email the photo evidence of my cancelled check, which I did (even though I had already mailed the same). I did not receive a response.

City of Chicago Finance Department website

The City of Chicago Finance Department website

When I received a Notice of Final Determination in the mail, it looked pretty serious. A judge had determined my guilt and the fine was doubled. It was the same notice number.

I again called the City of Chicago Finance Department, and again waited nearly a half hour on hold.

On that second call, I finally learned that in actuality, a second ticket had been issued (oops!), and I had only paid for the first one. Both tickets use the same notice number, which the lady on the phone politely explained was “basically your account number.”

So why couldn’t they just call it that?

Worse, they ask you to put the notice number on the check, which is what caused my confusion in the first place. My cancelled check had the same notice number as the second notice that I received for a different ticket. I later learned that it’s the ticket numbers that are different.

So what can we learn from these two experiences?

  1. Use language that your customers actually understand. Avoid using industry jargon, acronyms, or phrases like “ALT ID” or “Notice Number” that may make sense to you and your co-workers, but just don’t make sense to the end user.
  2. Make it easy for your customers. I often quote former Cubs manager Joe Maddon who says “Do Simple Better” It shouldn’t take multiple steps to redeem a reward or pay a speeding ticket. Count the number of steps it takes to complete tasks within your customer journey, and try to reduce each one by at least one step.
  3. Provide better customer service. It’s just not acceptable in 2022 to wait on hold for a half an hour or longer just to speak with a human. In the case of the speeding ticket, I had no choice. But if this was a business, I’d be quickly deciding to take my money elsewhere.

The gas rewards story is an exclusive excerpt from The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share (Morgan James Publishing), used with permission. The book is available in all formats on Amazon (affiliate link). Main image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay.

See What Dan Can Do For Your Organization

Let Dan inspire your team to adopt a new culture full of Experience Makers.

Meet With Dan