The customer CAN handle the truth

In the process of redesigning our city’s web site a few years ago, we studied the comments of Gerry McGovern in Ireland. Gerry is the author of a newsletter called NEW THINKING which has insightful content about the use of our web sites and the content we provide on it. I really liked his thoughts from his Feb 7th newsletter about what we communicate to our customers, on and off the web.

I think far too often government officials treat citizens as if they can’t handle the truth. I can only hope that the current establishment’s efforts on transparency begins to reverse this trend and will not be just mere words.

Content management solutions: Gerry McGovern


The customer CAN handle the truth

It is time for marketers and communicators to stop treating customers like little children and start treating them like intelligent adults.

“In order to continue to improve our products and deliver more sophisticated features and performance, we are harnessing some of the latest improvements in web browser technology,” the good Google person told me. “This includes faster JavaScript processing and new standards like HTML5. As a result, over the course of 2010, we will be phasing out support for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 as well as other older browsers that are not supported by their own manufacturers.”

Why couldn’t they have just written: “Over the course of 2010, we will be phasing out support for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 and other older browsers.”

“Thank you for your inquiry,” the auto-generated email that was impossible to reply to stated. “To assist in providing you the quickest answer to your inquiry, please see the Help Section of” Hello? Sorry,, but that’s not the quickest way by any means. It is, however, the cheapest way for you to deal with support. Why be so dishonest with your language?

I had to call my broadband company today. “Your call is important to us,” the voice said as I waited on hold. Is it indeed? If my call was important to you then you’d answer it.

You wouldn’t put me on hold and you wouldn’t insult my intelligence by saying “Your call is important to us.”

Do organizations actually test their lies, deception, spin, and half-truths on customers? Does it really work? Or does it instead annoy and irritate customers?

I was staying at the Royal Lancaster in London and I wanted to sign up for broadband. I clicked on the link. “Welcome to the The Royal Lancaster,” Thank you for choosing us to serve as your “home away from home”” And it went on and on and on. “Whether for work or pleasure, we are pleased to introduce our industry leading in-room high-speed Internet services amenity … It’s Easy to Use … We hope you find this service exciting and valuable.”

When I clicked “Continue” I was then told the price. (pounds)17 for one day. Yes, (pounds)17.

“We are delighted to inform you that the Guest Elevators are currently undergoing a complete refurbishment,” the sign outside the Hilton Edinburgh elevator told me. And me, I was absolutely delighted too, thrilled, and jumping for joy as I carried my heavy bags up the stairs.

I remember reading about a study of house selling in the book Freakonomics. Seemingly, in for-sale ads the following words were associated with houses of genuine quality: “granite, state-of-the-art, corian, maple, gourmet.” Poor quality houses, on the other hand, had these words associated with them: “fantastic, spacious, !, charming, great neighborhood.” I saw an example of this one day when I visited a house for sale that was advertised as: “Fantastic and rare opportunity to acquire this beautiful 7 bedroom detached home. This property has got it all!” As the sales agent quietly said to me, “The only thing you could do with this house is knock it down and start again.”

Here’s a radical idea: Tell the customer the truth. They can handle it.

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So I guess the movie was wrong…”The Truth…You can’t handle the truth” 🙂

This also goes with the whole point of companies and government agencies talking like real people. Vs scripted jargon…