Gobbledygook Be Gone: It’s Time for Clear Communication in Call Centers

Web-based communication is on the rise in the call center. Prosci, a research company that serves the call center industry, predicts that email web contacts will outpace voice contact for customer service in about five years. Now more than ever, call centers need to find ways to deliver consistently superior customer experiences across multiple channels. Many are using desktop suites with automatic response tools to address rising email volume. But in their effort to increase efficiency, they may have increased the amount of gobbledygook and reduced customer satisfaction in the process.

If you have ever received one of these template messages, you probably noticed phrases we would never use in day-to-day language—like "renewable term" or "contingent beneficiary", or even "prioritization and synchronization of the applicable systems to cultivate a comprehensive solution." That’s gobbledygook.

It seems to me that people don’t talk anymore, they "dialogue." To move forward, they "think outside the box," "push the envelope," "reinvent the wheel" and maybe even "incentivize" their call center representatives.

Given our fast-paced world, with approximately 1.3 billion email users sending about 210 billion emails a day, you’d think people would write more clearly to get their messages across...the first time. Not so. Gobbledygook is making its way into every written message and meeting, perhaps to the point where people just don’t notice anymore. Well, I notice. And I bet many of you do too. It’s time we did something about it.

Types of Gobbledygook

Gobbledygook takes many forms. It can be annoying clichês, like "at the end of the day" or "at this moment in time" or "with all due respect"—which happened to be voted the top three most irritating phrases as noted in Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare by Jeremy Butterfield.

Or, it could be corporate speak; jargon and vague business phrases that have a tone of self-importance. We’ve all seen "ballpark figures" or heard about "mission critical" events. And, maybe even used phrases like these to sound impressive. Then there are what EMC Corporation has dubbed "hidioms." In other words, hideous corporate-speak language to avoid, or corporate speak run amok.
Here are some of the hidioms they noted along with words to use instead

  • handshake (as a verb)--------agree, commit
  • mindshare------------------------awareness
  • granular/granularity------------detail
  • net-net-----------------------------just leave it out!

We also turn nouns into verbs by adding –ing or ize, such as operationalize, commoditize, productize and solutioning. And, we coin new words through combinations of words, such as marketecture (marketing and architecture), which is "any form of electronic architecture perceived to have been produced purely for marketing reasons."

Some Industries are Tackling Gobbledygook

There is hope for a clearer business world and progress is being made in some notable areas, particularly the insurance industry. I know what you are thinking—the insurance industry? But Ingrid Lindberg, CIGNA’s Chief Experience Officer, is leading the charge to eliminate "insurance speak" from all customer communications. And she has succeeded. CIGNA has new guidelines to replace insurance jargon we have all seen in policies, like provider, co-pay and formulary. Instead you’ll see familiar words like doctor, the amount you pay and drug list. It is paying off, too. By simply changing the words, they measured a 156 percent increase in understanding.

What You Can Do to Help

Take a stand and make a difference in your own organization.

Here’s how:

  • Veer from the crowd and use clear, simple language that doesn’t demand a dictionary to understand. People will notice, and most importantly, understand your message.
  • Promote clear language in your organization. Encourage the creation of guidelines or even a corporate writing guide, like the one developed by EMC. Share a list words and phrases to avoid to ensure clarity and consistency.
  • Rewrite templates and auto responses from your email management software or desktop suite—take out jargon and replace it with plain, simple language that any customer could understand.
  • Highlight the consequences of not changing. According to The Quality Connection, unclear communication causes 34 percent of all workplace problems. Think about the cost of confusing email chains, multiple communications, wasted time and ultimately customer defection.

Brainstorm and Reinforce the Benefits of Plain Language:

  1. Internally—improved productivity, increased efficiency, fewer misunderstandings and faster progress
  2. Externally—fewer complaints, increased customer satisfaction and perhaps even more referrals given your refreshingly clear communication

In the words of Tom Watson Jr., former CEO of IBM: "Gobbledygook... may be acceptable among bureaucrats but not in this company. IBM was built with clear thinking and plain talk. Let’s keep it that way."

First published on Contact Center IQ.