A New Role for The Common European Framework of Reference: Boosting Comprehensibility of Communications to Private Customers


Author: Barbara Pizzedaz (WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria)
Speaker: Barbara Pizzedaz
Topic: Textualization, Contextualization, Entextualization
COMELA 2020 General Session


Abstract

It is a common occurrence for private consumers to receive notifications from telecommunications and financial service providers about changes regarding their accounts, involving, for instance, unfavorable modifications to their contracts or the rejection of insurance claims. Breaking bad news to existing private customers is part of companies’ post-purchase communication designed to maintain relations with those customers in the long term. Surveys conducted by European insurance companies (Haug/Haseloff 2018) have shown that these types of communication generally display low comprehensibility and intelligibility because they use legal language often replete with jargon and complex wording, which irritates recipients by requiring them to re-read the communication. In addition, although the population of many Western European countries is increasingly diverse, customer feedback has suggested that this kind of wording is often less clear, not only for second-language speakers, but also for natives. However, limited access to companies for ethnographic research means that little detailed analysis has yet been done of how such bad news is formulated by service providers in practice (Stahl/Menz 2014), and of what happens behind the scenes of the text production process, especially with regard to who participates in it and to what extent. This paper investigates how domestic and multinational service companies in Austria, Germany and Italy have addressed the issue of the comprehensibility of their written customer communication. More specifically, it investigates the process underpinning the formulation of unpleasant news. The research draws on ethnographic fieldwork, talks and interviews with internal and external workplace writers, whether professional or otherwise, as well as language experts from communication agencies. The aim is to follow the entextualisation and recontextualisation process of real, unmanipulated bad news communications sent to non-business clients of insurance companies and telecommunications providers. One finding is that the private sector is increasingly adopting frameworks and benchmarks from second language acquisition, especially CEFR, to improve the clarity of its writing. The paper also highlights the text production strategies used by companies in implementing plain language and describes the collaborative writing process behind them.

References:
Haug, Oliver/ Haseloff, Anikar. Corporate Language: Unternehmenssprache verständlich gestalten, effektiv steuern und praxisnah umsetzen. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2018.
Silverstein, Michael/Urban, Greg, eds. Natural histories of discourse. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Stahl, Heinz/Menz, Florian. Handbuch Stakeholder-Kommunikation. Berlin: Schmidt, 2014.
Woydack, Johanna. Linguistic Ethnography of a Multilingual Call Center. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Keywords: Entextualisation, recontextualisation, bad news, customer communication