A Definition of Small Print… and how it wrecks customer relationships.
Whilst font size could be used as a measure, a more workable definition of what constitutes ‘small print’ is the stuff you hope the customer doesn’t read until you point it out to them.
“It is there…in writing… you cannot say I didn’t tell you”
This kind of discussion nearly always happens when the customer is looking at a copy of your invoice and has steam coming out of his or her ears. Pointing out the reason for the misunderstanding hidden in the small print may force the customer to settle the bill, but is almost guaranteed to send them looking for another supplier. All you are actually saying to your customer is “See.. you are too lazy or stupid to read everything I send you”. Insulting customers is never a good strategy.
We work on the principle that an invoice should not contain any nasty surprises for the customer… if it does, this is a failure in your communication. The golden rule of communication is: If someone hasn’t understood something it is not that they are thick, it is that you have not communicated properly.
Sales and marketing people like to live in ‘large print’ world… i.e. the stuff you hope the customer does read. Stuff about how wonderful your product is, how nice and clever your firm is and what fantastic value they will recoup by spending money with you.
In between the worlds of ‘large print’ and ‘small print’ we believe there is a much underused form of communication. For want of a better term, we call it Nuanced Large Print.
Whether in proposals, emails, website copy or literature, this is where you manage the customers expectations. This is where you subtly point out under what circumstances the invoice might be more than the headline figure in the large print. This is where you sow a few gentle seeds telling them what is included in the price and what will be extra. It contains phrases like:
“The cost for the standard product is £X. We can of course provide many kinds of bespoke packaging and will be happy to work out a cost for you.”
“Assuming that we are looking at a single division of the group, phase 1 of the project will cost £X”
“Based on the current specification we can complete the work for £X. We can usually accommodate minor changes in the layout. If you want to alter anything, please let us know as soon as possible so we can see if there is a cost implication before proceeding”.
These are not hidden away in the small print, they are there right next to the large print price. They are couched in open and honest terms and crafted to sound professional and positive.
There may be people in your organisation who get on their high horse when a customer complains about something they should have spotted in the small print….’It’s their own fault… they should have read the terms and conditions!!”. These are usually people who are not responsible for next years sales to the customer in question.
I am not saying you don’t need terms and conditions…. but you should work on the assumption that their only practical use is as something to give to your lawyer to argue over with their lawyer.