Can plain language mitigate risk?

  • Clarity and risk mitigation

We’re often asked whether a plain language contract will hold up in court. Whether we’re absolutely certain that, if a consumer is so dissatisfied with a product or service that he or she takes the company to court, the company would be protected from risk by their plain language contract. “We just don’t want to end up in a situation”, they say, “where we lose face, or money, because our plain language contract has left us exposed”.
But hold on. Is that the normal behaviour of a customer? To go from dissatisfied to the high court in 0,6 seconds? No, of course not. Mostly, customers who feel that their expectations have not been met will pull out their contract first (and probably for the first time).

If they are confronted by a clear layout that makes the document easy to navigate, useful headings that saves them time in getting to the appropriate clause, and unambiguous language that tells them exactly what their rights and responsibilities are, they are likely to kick themselves for not reading their contract sooner – instead of threatening the poor call centre agent within an inch of her life.

Imagine, on the other hand, the customer’s frustration when they open their contract (that two-column fine print beauty that you managed to squeeze onto a single page by taking out all the sub headings and paragraph spacing), and struggle to find the clause they are looking for. Then, when they eventually find it (they are now ten degrees hotter under the collar), you address them in the third person, and talk to them as though they have already defaulted on payment or tried to defraud the company. That’s no way to win friends and influence people!
We have worked on projects where the use of plain language in a contract has all but completely removed the need for an inbound call centre – so dramatic was the decrease in complaints.

So, when people ask us whether their contract will protect them in court, we say: sure thing. But not only that – your plain language contract is more likely to keep you out of court to begin with.

If you want a contract that creates a positive impression of your company, manages customer expectations and reduces customer complaints, you should get in touch. We’re pretty good at it.

2018-03-15T10:27:27+00:00By |Compliance and risk management|

About the Author:

Liezl van Zyl
Liezl is our in-house information design expert (we can’t all be lawyers!). She has only just joined Novation after a five-year stint at Stellenbosch University’s Language Centre, where she was head of Information Design. Liezl has been described by a client as Elizabeth’s ‘professional person’ – perhaps because she wears high heels and doesn’t swear in meetings. She is passionate about making a difference in the way in which companies and organisations view their communications, and the way in which they see the people with whom they communicate. She likes reading first time novels, and she often judges books by their covers (literally, not figuratively). She hates direct marketing and cheese curls. She is scared of frogs and believes they are out to get her.