Caryn Gootkin warms up to her theme and highlights examples of sloppy and convoluted writing from Standard Bank’s online presence.
My column about the merits (or otherwise) of Standard Bank’s marketing campaigns caught the attention of marketing professionals, consumers and bank representatives alike. And even though the official @StandardBankGrp Twitter account sent me a good-natured tweet welcoming my comments, I feel duty bound to finish what I started.
The initial focus of this series of columns was bad writing on behalf of a brand and it’s to this topic that I must return. Without further ado, I present to you … (cue drumroll)…the words that should never have been written, at least not in their present form.
The @StandardBankGrp twitter account, which is very active and responds quickly to complaints or queries, contains the following posts:
Credit and debt is sometimes inevitable
Do you know why is was frozen?
You have the comfort of banking any where, any time.
A passing had for learners:
(The underlining is mine.)
Perhaps, in retrospect, they respond too hastily. And repent at leisure? An old Latin proverb springs to mind: Festina lente. (Hurry slowly.) While this appears at first glance to be an oxymoron, never forget the slow but determined tortoise who outwitted the smart-ass hare.
While trying unsuccessfully to activate my Internet banking, I found these golden nuggets:
“Your use of this website is dependent on factors beyond our control, such as the network coverage or availability of your Internet Service Provider’s availability.”
“The latest version of these Terms apply whenever you visit this website.”
“Please note that there is additional costs for payment confirmation”.
“A cookie is small pieces of text that are…”
(I have no words. We all know “cookie” has various meanings. But without an‘s’ at the end of the word they are all singular and therefore require a singular verb. Enough said.)
And, hidden in the terms and conditions, my personal favourite, demonstrating as it does the very opposite of plain language:
“You hereby release and hold Standard Bank harmless with respect to any claims, damages, costs, losses and expenses, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, due to or arising out of content you submit, post, transmit or make available, the use of such content by Standard Bank for any purpose, your use of the ideas your violation of these Terms , or the violation by you or Standard Bank of yours or any third party’s rights including, without limitation, intellectual property or other proprietary rights, rights of privacy and publicity, rights of attribution, or any other liability, direct or indirect, vicarious, contributory, or otherwise.”
A 101 word sentence is difficult to digest even if it’s not drowning in legalese, verbosity, tautology and archaisms. The Standard Bank Group is definitely in the market for a complete plain language overhaul of the legal sections on their website, unless they intend falling foul of the Consumer Protection Act. (Not that I would ever market my services so blatantly.)
The website hellopeter.com is a forum for consumers to complain about their negative experiences with service providers. The site makes for entertaining reading about the frustration we experience in dealing with inefficient service providers. But what interests me even more are the responses by the targeted service providers.
The site is monitored closely by the usual suspects who respond painstakingly to each and every entry, which appears to me to be a full-time job. Standard Bank’s official responders take their jobs very seriously, as is evident from the overly formal language they use.
See how many grammatical and plain language transgressions you can spot in the three letters below. In fact, point them out in the comments section below. Let’s see if we can find the simplest and most-straightforward way of conveying these messages. The best rewrites will be featured in our International Plain Language Day edition on 13 October.
“With reference to my closing call to you, there was consensus that the matter was dealt and no hesitance was evident at the time from you.
We assure you that we regard our service delivery of at most importance and will strive to deliver even better service to our customers going forward.
As previously advised, should you experience any dissatisfied service delivery, you are most welcome to contact me directly and urgent assistance shall be provided to you.”
And two more from the same writer:
Please be advised that further details have been requested from you in order for us to address your concerns.
We await you response.
With reference to our telephonic discussion earlier, we do sincerely apologise for the service break down experienced. The matter was addressed with the relevant parties in order to prevent any similar re-occurrences of this nature.
I trust you find the above in order.
Complaint Resolution Centre
(*Not her real name. I do have a heart.)
I will suggest to Russel Smit, who handles Standard Bank’s online reputation management, that a course in grammar, style and plain language for Ms A would be money well spent.
Also, as earnest and obliging as her replies are, don’t try to reach Ms A on the email address she provided. If, however, you do really need to contact her you could try using the correct spelling of “relations” in her email address.
Another of Standard Bank’s employees who may not be easy to get hold of is a man who was described in his own profile on their website as being in charge of “Pres Relations”. (And no, this man does not have a direct line to JZ. His relationships are with the men and women who work as hard, if not harder than, our President but whose salaries are somewhat less than presidential – journalists.)
I found this reference to the “Pres Relations” man in Clive Simpkins’ post on Standard Bank’s 2009 IT blunder. At the time Clive concluded:
“Isn’t reputation management on the radar any longer?”
Wise words, @clivesimpkins, and still very relevant today, don’t you think? With the obvious exception of appointing Mr Smit, Standard Bank’s online communication strategy does not seem to have moved forward since then.
In fact, as a brand slogan I would have stuck with “Simpler, Better, Faster” (the campaign that emerged out of their 2000 brand revision). Although, on second thoughts, that campaign was open to attack by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Then there was “Inspired, Motivated, Involved”, their 2006 brand renaissance, which come to think of it is also a bit of a stretch of the truth.
As flawed as both the previous taglines were, they were certainly both punchier and more effective than “Moving Forward”.
But then I am not a marketer, so what would I know?
No pressure, Russel, but I have high expectations of you.
Follow Caryn @inotherwordscg