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Think Like a Customer

In Washington State we changed to daylight saving time on Sunday morning, so yesterday I needed to set all our clocks back one hour. All of the clock changes were easy, except the one in our car.

My husband was driving, and my job was to adjust the clock. On the center console is a button that says Clock. So far so good. But after pressing that button, I could see no obvious way to change the hours. I tried pressing several buttons after pressing Clock, but I had no luck. So I pulled out the owner's manual.

What word would you look up in the index to find instructions for changing the clock?

Clock? No. Nothing in the index under Clock.

Time? No, nothing under that term.

Adjusting? No.

Changing? No.

Daylight saving time? Not a chance!

Display? Uh uh.

Radio (since the clock is next to the radio and CD player)? Nope!

Console? No.

Dashboard? No.

Digital? No.

I read the entire index and found nothing having to do with the clock. So I decided to flip through the manual.

There it was on page 6-24: Clock. Above Clock was the heading Audio System. Below it were these subheadings:

  • Setting the time
  • Exact hour adjustment
  • Changing the display mode

What went wrong? Whoever indexed the manual was not thinking like a customer. Audio System appeared prominently in the index, with the entries Audio control switch, Audio set, Operating tips for audio system, and Safety certification as subheads.

As business writers, we need to think about our readers, our audience, our customers. What are they looking for? What will they call the thing they are looking for on our websites, in our procedure manuals, on our resumes, or in our email? If they are looking for clocks and time, we will lose them if we offer only audio systems.

Well, our family is set on daylight saving time until next spring. When I need to change the clock again, I will look up this blog entry. I hope I can find it under "Clock"!

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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