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Translating to customer language

1 December 2016
Dana Neuman- Rotem

Lately, I have been struggling with the definition of "customer language". The definition is seemingly obvious: a simple language which is comprehensible to all parties and doesn't require translation or a learning process; in short, an intuitive language. While in recent years most organizations are involved with the world of self service in order to make information accessible to company customers in a simple and friendly manner via company website or social networks, they haven't initiated a similar process regarding intra-organizational Knowledge Management systems.

While the reason for this phenomenon seems seemingly obvious as well (information used solely inside the organization doesn't need to be translated to customer language), this is simply not the case.

Consider this: is the data accessible to our internal user intuitive and doesn't require prior preparation? Is it simple enough and ensure the user a positive user experience? Are the professional terms and language used necessary? Perhaps they can be omitted?

 Hereby are a few thoughts I've had on the manner:

  1. In a Knowledge Management system our goal is to bridge gaps, transmit messages clearly and precisely, finding the information and the required answer in minimum time. This goal is shared by internal and external Knowledge Management: to allow the customer (whether internal or external) receive clear information, quickly and effortlessly.

  2. In a Knowledge Management system, we strive to convey new content and vital messages in as few channels as possible (less instructions and long learning processes) so that they can serve out users permanently. Again, same goal: making information accessible without prior preparation or learning.

  3. In a Knowledge Management system, we wish our users to execute processes simply, easily and with minimal cognitive investment, similarly to the manner in which we make self service processes on our website accessible to company customers. The goal is common to both areas: quick and simple process execution.

Now, let's step the game up and review the language in which we write content in out KM systems:

Is the language used simple and understood by all or does it require prior learning/preparation in order to comprehend the professional jargon?

While some (rightfully) claim that an internal user must be well versed in professional jargon, workers should not be required to use a dictionary: when the system does not use customer language, a user's expertise is required in order to adapt the content for customers. This is a complex, time-consuming process to perform in real time.

So, how do we alter language?

  1. Briefly review the written content used in your KM system: can a layman understand these instructions? Request an actual layman to assist.

  2. Based on your conclusions, formulate guidelines for correct writing. One of them must be "the information must be understood by absolutely everyone".

  3. Together with your work partners, formulate guidelines for optimal data presentation. Your partners and content suppliers are an integral part of this process. One mandatory guideline is uniformity.

  4. Test yourself: implementing change is difficult, and we occasionally 'slip' into our old habits unaware. Create environments which support a review-conclude-change-validate process.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that internal users are similar to external ones: we wish to quickly convey simple, easy and intuitive information. Our writing should be performed accordingly: no interpretation should be necessary. The information should be simple; involve your content suppliers in the process in order to attain uniformity in all organizational communication channels. And finally, review constantly: is your content comprehensible to a layman unfamiliar with the organization/system?

I wish us all luck.

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