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Businesses usually write much better in their apps than everything else, says Harry Ashbridge of The Writer.

Is the end nigh for actual human interaction? Probably not. But we’re choosing to deal with companies through our phones more and more. So the best apps are a masterclass in good customer experience. Here are five linguistic tricks you can nick from apps and apply to the rest of your CX.

  1. They keep their writing pithy

There are a million things someone could be doing on their phone instead of looking at your app. So when they do, the odds are it’s for something specific – and they want it fast. You’ve got just a few seconds to grab their attention, so the best apps don’t waffle. Uber, Dropbox and Songkick don’t say anything unless they absolutely have to; they just snap to it.

Less is more elsewhere too. When we rewrote a section of Cisco’s website, even though the pages were shorter, people spent 35% longer on each page, and clicked through 150% more. And cutting 13 seconds from a BT call centre script didn’t just make their customers happier, it saved them millions in call-handling time.

  1. They’re a bit of the brand in your pocket

When you open Wahaca’s app, it doesn’t say Find a restaurant. It says Take me to the tacos!

Every time someone uses your app, there’s a big opportunity: a precious bit of screen time to show them who you are, what you’re like and how you’re different. Yes, good apps don’t say anything unless they have to. But when they do, they make sure they don’t sound like everyone else.

And you don’t need many words to give people a taste of your brand. O2 didn’t think Tickets subject to availability really suited them, so we changed it to: When they’re gone, they’re gone.

You’ll now see it on letters, emails and gigantic billboards.

  1. They know we’re charmed by the unexpected

Every so often, Citymapper will give you the option to travel by catapult, or teleport. It’s a silly, throwaway little thing that does nothing to make their app more useful. But it always makes me smile. That care for the nooks and crannies tells me they have some personality, and pay attention to detail.

And this stuff sticks. A woman came along to one of our training sessions once with a Prana receipt she’d been carrying around in her bag for seven years (and looking at a few times a day), because she loved the quotation on the back. How’s that for ‘share of mind’?

  1. They don’t neglect the dull stuff

This is the where even the best apps often fall down. We’ve argued before that Apple’s terms and conditions are a life-sapping trudge. They’re a bit of customer experience that doesn’t match up with Apple’s otherwise slick design. So it’s a breath of fresh air when you come across a company who really understand that all their content has to fit the medium and work for the reader. Here’s a bit from Dropbox’s terms of service:

When you use our Services, you provide us with things like your files, content, email messages, contacts and so on (“Your Stuff”). Your Stuff is yours. These Terms don’t give us any rights to Your Stuff except for the limited rights that enable us to offer the Services.

Short, sharp, easy to follow and using language everyone can understand.

If you apply that same approach to all your writing, there are big benefits to be had. When we helped British Gas rewrite their Help & Advice pages, calls from confused customers dropped 22%. That’s time and money saved.

  1. They respond to what we want

Apps want your feedback, all the time. They’re constantly tested, tweaked and updated to be as intuitive as possible. While I was scrolling through Songkick’s terms and conditions to research this article, they asked me what I thought of them. The Ts&Cs! When was the last time you asked your customers what they thought of your Ts&Cs?

Obviously an app is quicker and easier to change than other, bigger systems. But from a customer’s point of view, who cares? We’re increasingly demanding, and we expect a joined-up experience. The companies that are slow to respond will be left behind.

The good news is that of all the knotty CX problems businesses face, language is one of the quickest and cheapest to change, and tackling it usually pays for itself several times over.  So if you’re worried about what customers make of your language, ask them. They’ll probably tell you exactly what you need to do.

Harry Ashbridge is a senior consultant at The Writer, the world’s largest language consultancy.

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