Rewriting terms and conditions

The ever-wonderful Marketoonist makes a wonderful point this week about terms and conditions.

We all know that we don’t read terms and conditions. We click “accept” every time iTunes throws an updated version of their Ts&Cs at us. We might be conscientious enough to file the small print that arrives with a new consumable. But we don’t read them.

Research by Carnegie Mellon University back in 2012 showed that the average consumer would need 76 working days to read all the privacy policies they agree to each year.

Yet the fact that we don’t read the small print can leave us – as consumers – vulnerable and exposed. Because it’s all well and good being able to contest Ts&Cs with the Financial Ombudsman – but that can take weeks and months. And if you need to make an emergency claim on your travel insurance policy, you probably want to do it immediately.

Why is it time to rewrite terms and conditions?

Organisations across the world invest time and resource making sure their customer communications are interesting, recognisable and engaging. They rightly regard all this activity as an important aspect of building their brand.

Yet somehow, the smallprint gets left out of these efforts. Few people understand the smallprint, so it’s left to the teams that do – legal, maybe compliance and maybe a handful of subject matter experts.

And what you end up with is a document that’s meant to safeguard the interests of the company – but that feels sneaky and underhand to the consumers who receive it.

Terms and conditions, dense with slippery-sounding legal speak damage brand reputations.

And when you get into the close realms of policy documentation, poor wording can result in consumers not getting the insurance cover they need… or suppliers and colleagues putting their companies at risk.

It can only be a matter of time before regulators really start to focus on these documents.

How do you rewrite legal documents like terms and conditions and policies?

Over the past few months here at Wordtree, we’ve helped a couple of wonderful, forward-looking organisations to completely rewrite their policy documents. One is an insurance company. The other is a sovereign wealth fund. 

This has been the process we have found most useful…

Get a team together

Your aim should be to create a policy or contract that your target audience finds so useful and interesting that they read it cover to cover. To achieve this, you need a team of people that’s prepared to listen to each other’s views and experiences and move ahead to achieve the new goal.

The team will probably comprise:

·     Writers

·     Subject matter experts

·     Compliance/risk management professionals

·     Possibly a lawyer

·     Marketing or brand experts

·     A project manager

·     An executive sponsor

The SMEs are there to make sure the content is accurate. The compliance person will make sure the content adheres to regulation. A lawyer will make sure the document is still legally robust. The project manager will maintain control. The brand experts make sure the document helps to tell the brand story – and the writer or writers are there to bring all of this together.

Also make sure you have a senior leader on board who’s passionate about the project. Their presence will help maintain momentum… and you may need them to unblock any serious blockages.

Agree a structure

One of the biggest pieces of work you’ll do on rewriting Ts&Cs, policies or any other type of legal document is to restructure it.

Legal documents are written from a legal perspective, not from their intended audience’s point of view. So from the outset, you need to be prepared to take the original document to pieces and to put it back together in the way that will make most sense for the people who will receive the document.

Do this well, and you will change people’s behaviour with the document. Our rewritten travel insurance policy, for example, gives holiday-makers easy options to flip to sections like “Medical emergency” and “Road accident”. It tells users, up-front and in plain language, what they’ll need with them when they call from a hospital. It gives clearly marked hints and tips. It has headings including “What you’re covered for,” and “What you’re NOT covered for.”

To restructure, think of the circumstances in which your audiences will read the document. Allow them to skip easily to the bits they need – but make it interesting enough to give them a good reason to read it all.

Agree a tone

You may already have a documented tone of voice – but it’s not unusual for people working in areas like legal, compliance and specialist product areas to either not be aware of tone, or think it doesn’t apply to their area of the business.

So agree a section of a couple of pages that you’ll work on, present it to the working group and get agreement on tone.

Your approach, of course, should be free of legal speak and jargon. The person you’re talking to isn’t “the insured” or “the contractor” – it’s “you” or “you and your business” or “you and your family”. This is why it’s good to have a lawyer or product specialist in the team.

Establish a watertight project management approach

A number of people are going to have to be involved in giving feedback on a project like this. Make sure everyone knows the approach and timelines – and manage them fastidiously.

Be strict about version control. You’re more than likely going to be working on different sections of the document at the same time – so you need to be sure that everyone is feeding back on exactly the right version.

The other thing we do with projects like this is to create tables indicating where content has come from. It’s painstaking – but it makes sure that nothing gets lost or overlooked in the re-write. It also gives you a means of checking individual phrases, sentences and paragraphs against their original versions – because remember, you’re completely restructuring, rather than prettying up the text sentence by sentence.

Make the rest of the business aware of what you’re doing

Wholesale change to an insurance policy document – or terms and conditions – could have a deep impact on the way your contact centre answers calls and queries.

You may also have to reconfigure parts of your website and registration/sign-up process.

So make sure everyone who needs to know about these profound changes knows in plenty of time. This could well be the time when you need your executive sponsor to become more heavily involved, persuading and cajoling other teams to prioritise the training and development needed to make the new documents part of business as usual.

Launch your new documents

When the project is all signed off, launch it internally. Tell all your teams the story of why this big change had to happen – and what it will mean for them.

Train your lawyers/compliance teams/product specialists

Recognise that this document is going to be added to and altered as your offer/the law/other circumstances change. And don’t let your lovely policy or Ts&Cs drift back into dense, difficult language.

Train your specialists to write for end readers. Get them to embrace your brand and understand that to deliver it, they need to be clear and customer-focussed.

Get the right external help

We’d be very happy to discuss your legal documents with you – and to help you come up with a strategy to turn your Ts&Cs into valuable, customer-loyalty-generating, brand assets.

We can also help you to train your legal teams and product specialists to communicate clearly and interestingly.

Just give us a call on 0800 1223 770 – or +44 2920 494 307 if you’re calling from outside the UK. Or you can drop us a line: info@wordtree.com

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