How copy editing is a form of customer service

When you think of building out your business’s customer service team, you probably think of the friendly people answering phone calls and responding to emails to field customers’ questions and address their problems. What probably doesn’t come to mind is how well your copy has been edited. It’s time to rethink that.

Here’s why you should consider content strategy and copy editing to be the first lines of defense when it comes to customer support — keeping many easily preventable issues from rearing their ugly (and expensive) heads in the first place, and saving money in the long run.

The importance of unequivocal writing

Clear writing gets your intended message across, prevents confusion, and helps customers confidently make decisions about your products or services. But when it comes to preventing customer-service issues, “clear” doesn’t cut it for some writing. For copy such as terms and restrictions, you need to be unequivocal.

What do I mean by “unequivocal”?  Essentially, what’s written cannot be interpreted in any way other than the exact way you intended. When writing leaves even the smallest wiggle room for different interpretations, it creates a space for problems to sprout.

Examples of unclear writing

That may sound straightforward enough, but what does it look like in practice? Maybe you heard about the dairy company that lost $5 million because of a missing comma, which left the issue of overtime pay up for interpretation. That may be on the extreme end, but it clearly illustrates the importance of unequivocal writing.

Here are some more examples of issues that a good copy editor can preemptively address before they lead to customer headaches.

  • Unclear pronoun antecedents:

    “Our team will gather research about the new product and disseminate it.”
    Is the marketing disseminating the research or the product itself? A reader could easily assume either to be true. One rewrite might be “Our team will gather and disseminate research about the new product.”

  • Confusing wording:

    “Book a 3-day stay in wine country.” 
    What this author meant is that guests check in on day 1, continue to stay on day 2, and check out on day 3. However, some guests might reasonably assume the morning of checkout doesn’t count toward the total and that they will actually have the room for 3 nights. An editor can prevent upset bookers by changing “3-day stay” to “2-night stay” and clearly listing the check-in and checkout times.

  • Misplaced and dangling modifiers:

    “If reports about the company’s failing finances are true, Mechanical Pencil Company is well positioned to take over Wooden Pencil Inc.’s share of the market.”
    Which company is failing? This is copy touting Mechanical Pencil Company’s potential, but the way the sentence is written — with an unclear modifier — makes it seems as though they’re the ones on the downslide. The rewrite: “If reports about Wooden Pencil Inc.’s failing finances are true, Mechanical Pencil Company is well positioned to take over its share of the market.”

  • Insensitive language:

    “Our products can help the elderly and the disabled lead full lives.”
    No one sets out to intentionally insult a subset of their customers, but that’s exactly what some businesses do without a trained eye to point out potentially insensitive language. It’s important to use words like “elderly” and “disabled” as adjectives, not nouns — and to always identify people first as people, and then with any other descriptions. For instance, a good editor would rewrite this as “Our products can help people who are elderly and people with disabilities lead full lives.”

Content strategy prevents customer frustration

Beyond basic copy editing, having a solid framework for your overall content can prevent your customers from wandering around aimlessly on your site. Very few people will take the time to keep looking if they don’t find the answers they want right away.

Content strategy boils down to what information you publish and where. When you’re evaluating your content as a whole, you should be considering factors such as:

  • When to add complete information, and when to just list the most salient points and then redirect to the fuller version if someone is interested in learning more.
  • How to use analytics data to discover holes in your content where people are asking questions that aren’t being addressed.
  • How to write menus and headings so people know exactly what information they’re about to get.

There’s no value in forcing your customers to read a bunch of words that aren’t useful to them, and it’s likely to just drive them away. By having an easy-to-navigate framework for your content, they’ll find what they need quickly and come away satisfied.

Customer support and content go hand in hand

Your content and customer service teams shouldn’t be in separate silos — they should be integrated partners.

If customers are asking the same questions or having the same problems on a regular basis, that’s a clear red flag that your copy isn’t addressing customers’ needs.

When your customer service team and your content team are in regular communication, the content team is able to produce website copy, UX copy, fine print, and follow-up emails to proactively address the issues that are most frustrating to the customers.

Leave a good impression

No matter how clear and flawless your copy is, you’re still going to run into occasional customer-support problems that are completely out of your control. Packages get lost, well-made products don’t function properly in unexpected circumstances, and people make mistakes when they’re ordering — they’re all snags built into the DNA of running a business.

What you do have control over is:

  1. How you respond — i.e., your customer support.
  2. How much goodwill customers are willing to extend to you when you offer that support.

How do you lose goodwill? Complicated site layouts, confusing directions, and unclear policies, just to start.

For these reasons and more, you should consider editing its own form of customer service — the kind that’s invisible to your customers, but just as valuable in the overall impression they come away with after interacting with your brand.


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