In my old days in the publishing industry, it wasn’t difficult to assess the damage wrought by a typo. When three well-trained editors managed to print “Show Progam” across all 24 pages of a paid insert, management could easily put a price tag on those reprints.
But what about the large client who bought from a competitor because errors in your white paper made your company look unprofessional? How many times have your sales reps’ sloppy emails been deleted on the spot?
The Cost of Mistakes
A study conducted by communication experts Global Lingo recently found that 74 percent of online buyers in the UK notice the quality of spelling and grammar on the websites they visit. In fact, 59 percent reported that bad grammar and spelling mistakes would stop them from making a purchase, fearing that the company couldn’t be trusted to provide quality, professional service.
Earlier this year, Survey Monkey polled 1,000 people to quantify the effect typos and bad grammar have on business. They found that 81 percent of women and 77 percent of men are less likely to buy a product marketed with errors. Further, higher-level hiring managers (those with salaries of $72,000 and up) were 92 percent less likely to hire a person with typos on their resume or cover letter.
From my own observation, there are other, less measurable ways we lose money when clients catch errors in our emails and written documents.
• Tougher Negotiations—Typos make employees look less intelligent, which in turn makes clients feel like they have the upper hand. Clients are bolder in negotiations when they feel like they’re in the position of strength.
• Longer Sales Cycles—Attention to detail comes from the top down, so an abundance of errors may mean no one is minding the store. When clients don’t trust management, it will take them longer to sign contracts.
• Smaller Sales—Clients who question the quality of your work are more likely to test you out with smaller contracts or shorter commitments.
Correcting the Problem
Lately CEOs and business owners have started asking me to review resumes and cover letters. These are not applicants for marketing positions, so no one cares what I think about the person’s work experience or qualifications. No, these CEOs want to know what I think of the candidates’ writing.
They’ve got the right idea. The days are gone when a couple of proofreaders in the marketing department were the only ones who needed to know how to spell. In today’s business climate, you can’t afford to hire a poor communicator. Everyone from sales, to accounting, to tech support is out there emailing on behalf of your company. The stakes are simply too high.
For starters, throw out any resume that contains a typo, and watch for careless errors in follow-up emails throughout the hiring process. Candidates are on their best behavior when interviewing for a position. If they’re making mistakes now, it will only get worse after they’re hired.
Next, here’s how to create a culture of communication excellence:
• Provide Training
I’ve maintained for years as a university journalism instructor that writing is a completely teachable skill. Bring in an expert who can share some basic skills to help your team think like proofreaders and even improve their overall writing game. A few in-house workshops are well worth the effort from a skill standpoint—and they’ll send a clear message that management cares about the quality of written communication.
E-Course: Improve your digital writing in 30 easy email lessons.
• Create a Style Guide
When five different departments are communicating with clients, there’s a huge risk that they’re using different styles (punctuation and capitalization) or even different words to mean the same thing. At best, small style inconsistencies look like mistakes and suggest your company lacks attention to detail. At worst, different terms or descriptions confuse the client and lead to a poor user experience with your products or services. Assign a marketing team member (or you can easily hire an outside firm) to create an in-house manual that gets all employees on the same page by setting clear rules for how to depict often-used words, names and phrases in print.
• Standardize Documents
With the new Style Guide in hand, review all existing documents to remove the inconsistencies. Going forward, put a process in place to ensure the quality of new documents that will be created. For small companies, it may make sense to have all new documents go through one person or department to check for Style Guide compliance and fix any errors. Larger companies will need more employees to bear the responsibility for quality. Fun refresher quizzes with small prizes can help keep the writing lessons and Style Guide top of mind across the company.
While you don’t want your communications to feel formulaic, a few document templates or sample emails can help new employees, in particular, get a feel for the tone and standards of your organization. Your marketing team can create these, or they can be provided as part of the writing workshop process. Giving employees a few key phrases to use can cut down on inconsistencies and misspellings. Just make sure to instruct employees to proofread for cut-and-paste typos. This is where you often see a leftover comma in the wrong place or a missing period.
A final thought: While the evidence clearly suggests that we are critical buyers, we seem to have built up a tolerance for our own typos. Perhaps this is due to texting. My teenage daughter once tried to explain to me that texting had a language of its own, one in which it was not only acceptable but actually preferable to spell words such as “anyway” as “neway.” (She was unmoved by my argument that this construction saved her only one keystroke.) We’ve also become comfortable with blaming auto-correct for our smartphone typing mistakes, even preempting them with a “Please excuse typos—sent from my iPhone” disclaimer.
But now that we know our clients and colleagues aren’t as forgiving, we should do better. Our businesses depend on it.