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Plain Language: Its Effect on Organizational Performance

by Rose Grotsky

Toronto based Praxis Adult Training and Skills Development studied the business impact of introducing plain language at the financial services company BANCO. BANCO’s online information system is used mostly by customer representatives, who complained of an information overload when trying to help their customers using the online information system:

“I get a lot of information that I can’t use or really don’t need to service a customer.”

Praxis team members evaluated BANCO’s current information system and studied end users and their supervisors. Based on their findings, they reorganized and revised five representative online documents. They recruited customer representatives to participate in the testing. Two groups of representatives participated in the study; one used the new plain language documents, the other used the original versions of the documents. Praxis observed customer representatives as they used their group’s documents to do simple and complex tasks. The Praxis team collected performance data to compare differences on groups in four areas:

  • duration of tasks
  • incidence of errors
  • number of support phone calls to the help desk
  • duration of help desk calls

The Plain Language Group scored better on all measures at a high level of significance. The test showed that shifting to plain language for BANCO’S online information system had the potential to:

  • improve employee productivity by a forecasted 36.9%
  • decrease employee errors by a forecasted 77.1%
  • decrease the frequency of calls to the help desk by a forecasted 17.4%
  • decrease the duration of calls to the help desk by a forecasted 10.5%

Praxis forecast a potential return on investment of from $3.5 million CDN (worst case scenario) to $15.2 million CDN (best case scenario) over a 3-year period. The group using plain language documents was 61.2% more satisfied with their documents than the group using the original versions of the documents. Additionally, the plain language group thought the new documents improved their ability to find, understand and use information required for their jobs:

“Very clear, easy to read. Pleasing to the eye. This would make it much easier to obtain information while the customer is on the line… These documents would definitely be an asset on the job.”