The problem with many startups and small businesses is that they want to be big... they want to sound big, because they believe that showing an image of a "big company" makes them more serious and trustworthy. While that can be the case in some situations, trying to imitate a big company can sometimes work against you... especially in the way you deal with your customers and language you use.
"We're sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused"
Big corporations use this language to "apologize" for a server downtime. Just read it again. "Any inconvenience"? Users can't get to their data, they are furious! "We're sorry"? Sorry doesn't mean anything - "apologize" means you really take the blame, how about this: "We truly apologize for the server downtime, we know you really need to get to your data and we're working hard to make sure we're up and running again and that this kind of error won't happen in the future. Please bear with us just another minute.". Take the blame, be apologetic, suck it up and be human. People understand if you talk their language.
The official online forms with lots of data and no sentences
Just because your "big" competitor has a signup form asking for a user's favorite color, doesn't mean you have to. Make the signup experience as simple and short as possible. When you sign up for Nozbe
, I only ask for Name, Email and ... that's it. I ask for password only after you've confirmed your email address... and I ask for rest of the data on "as-needed" basis. Why ask for country or city? You can get this data from the users's IP address if you really need it. Don't make the barrier of entry too high for your startup!
Same with the lack of sentences - "Sign me up" looks a lot better on a signup button than "Save" or "Submit". Explain what you mean, speak English, not Corporate'ish.
The corporate way of treating people - bureaucratic customer support
Just have a look at how your mobile phone company is treating you. How your cable tv company is ignoring your requests. Look at these big companies and ask yourself, do I want my customers/users to be as upset as I am right now when this big company is sending me a letter I don't understand? A letter? In 21st century?
The other day I had a problem with incorrect invoices on my mobile phone bill, I called their call center and they said I had to write a formal letter to get this correction done (it's them who screwed up, and it's me who has to write the letter?)... so I wrote the letter. After 3 weeks they sent me a letter back saying, that in my letter I forgot to mention this and that data and I needed to send the letter again. Couldn't just they've called me? They know my number, after all they are my mobile phone company! Was this helpful? Was I upset? Is this the way to act if it's the company who makes mistake?
The Bottom line:
Don't be like big companies, use English language, take the blame even if it's not entirely yours. Just like Kennedy said: don't ask what your user/customer can do for you, ask what you can do for them.
Disclaimer: in the past I also admit I used some of the "corporate" phrases in my correspondence with my users... I apologize, this won't happen again, I will speak English.
Which of the companies you work with treat you well and with respect? What is there still to improve? How do you improve your company to server better your customers?