No matter the industry, when it comes to customer-facing content, improving customer satisfaction means prioritizing readability—or the ease with which readers can understand written text. Great readability comes from the use of simpler words, plain language and paragraphs that are easier to digest.
The pay-off for organizations that pay attention to readability can be substantial. In 2017, Forrester established the correlation between clear customer communications and increasing revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars. In contrast, customers that are confused by communications will call your support line for clarification, or worse, leave your brand for others they see as easier to deal with.
What factors affect readability?
Communications that are simple and easy to understand give the impression that the brand has nothing to hide, and therefore help build trust. To improve your readability in your communications, start by analyzing what you’re doing now that confuses customers. Then take steps to help employees adopt plain language and stick to it consistently.
Look closely at elements like:
- Word character and syllable counts (which affect reading comprehension)
- Sentence length and complexity
- Reading time
Modern Customer Communications Management (CCM) software solutions can help measure the reading level of your content before it goes out to customers. Messagepoint does this through its Content Intelligence capabilities which automatically assess the reading level of your content using the Flesch-Kincaid test.
In 1975, J. Peter Kincaid developed the Flesch-Kincaid readability formula to help the U.S. Army assess reading difficulty of manuals. Today, it’s used in many industries to ensure written communications are at the right reading comprehension levels. For example, insurance companies in certain U.S. states write policies at a ninth-grade reading level or below.
He created two tests: the Flesch reading ease test and the Flesch-Kincaid test.
The Flesch reading ease test
The Flesch reading ease test measures the readability of text based on average sentence lengths and syllables. Higher scores mean the written text is more readable or easily digestible. A lower score means your written text is more difficult to read.
Flesch-Kincaid grade level
The Flesch-Kincaid test presents a score as a U.S. grade level instead of calculating a score like the Flesch reading ease test. This scale generally indicates the number of years of education required to understand a piece of text.
What reading level should you be writing for?
It’s critical that your organization understands your customers. If you serve the general public, most experts advise writing for around an eighth-grade reading level. In certain industries though, such as health, safety or finance, many organizations opt to bring their communications down further still to a fifth- or sixth-grade level. This is done to ensure clarity and understanding. Even if your customers are college graduates, it’s still best practice to limit unnecessary jargon, and consider keeping reading levels at 10th grade or lower.