Georgina Guedes

Does my bank know whom it is addressing?

2012-11-23 10:27

Georgina Guedes

A couple of weeks ago, I received this SMS from my bank: "Let Absa notify u via SMS of transactions on ur Absa credit card." I would have thought it was clearly from some kind of phishing scammer, if it wasn't for the fact that it then directed me to Absa's actual website.

I am 34 years old. I am a Platinum account holder. I am a language practitioner. I don't appreciate being spoken to like this by my bank. I am not some teenager whose brain is so numbed by SMS shorthand that I wouldn't know proper grammar and punctuation if it leapt from a page and lodged itself in my eyeball.

The offence I have taken is twofold. The first problem is the security issue. If my bank wants me to query any "suspicious" e-mails that they send me, then there should be a consistent tone to their communications - one of formal professionalism.

Their SMSs should not sound like they are written by teenagers who didn't do so well in English. The use of informal SMS speak brings them dangerously close to sounding like the e-mails I get all too often telling me to click on the link to confirm my details.

My second point of offence is my own sensitivity to bad language. A large part of what I do for a living is consult to companies about how to speak plainly, and how to adjust their message appropriately for different audiences and media. But no matter whether they were talking on Twitter, SMS, e-mail or telephone, for anyone who isn't my buddy to address me like one is in appropriate.

My husband put it beautifully when I showed him. "I want my bank to be able to do maths and write in English." I agree. Their communications should fill me with confidence that the operation storing and investing my money for me is staffed with intelligent and competent people well suited to the jobs that they do. "Ur Absa credit card" most certainly does not.

Interestingly, Kulula.com manages to run a serious business - keeping planes in the air and passengers alive - while communicating with their customers using humour. The difference there is that they are slick and they are consistent. I know I'm going to get greeted by their staff as a superhero, and that's OK, because it's done in such a way that it’s clear that they’ve hired clever people to shape that kind of messaging.

Absa's SMSs sound like they've let some manager's teenager daughter handle customer comms while she's on her school holidays. And don't come to me with any nonsense about saving characters. I could have come up with about seven ways to make that sentence shorter that didn't require butchering the English language.

At the same time as I abhor jargon like "attached herewith" and "should you require… please do not hesitate...", and encourage all my clients to address their staff and customers in plain English, I don't believe that this extends to downgrading all communication to teenage joshing.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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