We’ve all seen one of these convoluted signs in a shop or a restaurant:
Due to unforeseen circumstances, we are currently unable to process credit or debit card transactions. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
Let’s break this down a bit to see why it’s so horrible.
1. It’s needlessly complicated
According to The Writer’s brilliant Readability Checker, it’s a message with a reading level that’s best suited to university students – about on par with the Harvard Law Review.
Your audience is literate, and most of them probably have a high level of education. But that doesn’t mean you ought to test their comprehension every time you have a simple message to get across.
2. Their eyes will glaze over most of it
It’s a copy-and-paste job that’s so ingrained in our experiences of customer service signs that when we see “Due to unforeseen circumstances” or “We apologise for the inconvenience”, we barely read those parts any more.
These over-used phrases have become chewing gum for the eyes, and the reader now has to do extra work to select the bits that are actually relevant to their situation.
In this case, it’s the bit about cards.
Even worse, reading this kind of language puts the customer into a corporate mindset.
You’re no longer a cheery shopkeeper just trying to do her best. You’re a business owner failing to provide an expected service – and that’s when the complaints begin.
3. It’s completely unnatural
If you whipped out a debit card when you reached the till and the shopkeeper started to recite the apology above, you’d slowly back away to the door.
A human shopkeeper, on the other hand, might say something like this:
“Our card machine’s broken. Sorry!”
Which seems like a much more sensible thing to write on a sign.