Lose the legalese to win over your customers

Eleanor Meecham | May 17, 2017

Shoppers at Coastlands, Paraparaumu, find the following sign ‘rude’, ‘bossy’, and ‘intimidating’.

Image, Parking enforcement sign at Coastlands shopping mall, Paraparaumu.

Parking enforcement sign at Coastlands shopping mall, Paraparaumu. Image by Ross Giblin / Fairfax

Yuk. That’s certainly a very complicated sign. It has long sentences (up to 69 words!), lots of legal terms (bona fide, indemnify), multi-level numbering, and a heavy-handed tone. Even using ‘you’ and ‘we’ doesn’t make it any friendlier. And let’s be honest: any public sign that needs an ‘interpretation’ section clearly needs help!

Old-fashioned legal language just isn’t necessary in today’s world. Certainly not in the car park of your local friendly shopping mall.

Does this sign achieve its purpose?

As far as we can tell, this sign aims to cover the parking company legally while its enforcement officers deal with parking issues. Fair enough. It may achieve that purpose.

Does it also aim to clearly tell car drivers their responsibilities? Probably. But it hasn’t achieved that.

The thing this sign seems to achieve best is making people annoyed and creating bad publicity. A bad tone creates bad feeling, and that’s the quickest way to lose or aggravate customers.

Do legal contracts have to sound like this?

No. Contracts can be legally binding while still sounding ‘human’. We would have loved to create this sign in plain, user-friendly English. We’re pretty sure it wouldn’t have made the news, but it would have done its job beautifully (and still kept the lawyers happy).

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