Friday, May 3, 2013

Science points the way to writing a better letter

Research says it's pretty easy to write a letter that gets read:
  1. Say what you mean; 
  2. Be brief; 
  3. Ask for action; 
  4. Follow up if you hear nothing.
Here's the science.

A company had to write 200,000 former customers informing them that they might be entitled to a refund. Researchers, in co-operation with the company in question, designed variations of the letter, mailed each version to 1,000 customers, and compared the response rates.

The original letter was brief and to the point, but buried a key detail--that the customer may be entitled to a refund. Response rates to this letter were less than 2 percent.

Two tweaks had counter-intuitive results:
  • Printing “important: please read and act quickly” on the envelope induced a tiny extra response; and
  • Using the company CEO’s name and signature instead of “customer services team” actually dissuaded people from responding. 
Four tweaks made a big difference:
  • Cutting a paragraph of blather that had helped to bury the message about the refund; 
  • Pointing out that a five-minute phone call would suffice to make a claim; 
  • Sending a follow-up letter; 
  • The biggest impact was from adding a couple of bullet points in bold at the top with the key message: you may deserve a refund; if so, call us.