excuse me- I don't understand

מאת: אליעוז רבין

נכתב ב- 5/1/2012

I have spent 25 happy years managing companies from industries such as insurance, telecommunications, and consumer goods. I guided people, confronted complex business processes, and led streamlining programmes. I dealt with insurance agents, lawyers, accountants, and board members while thinking that I must have a severe impediment. I didn’t understand what on earth they were talking about! At board meetings these professionals spoke of ‘pure spin-offs’, ‘EBITDA’, and ‘EVA’. My insurance agents described their ‘sales pitch’, and spoke of ‘subrogation’, ‘bodily-injury certificates’, ‘PHI’, and most importantly ‘production values’. I nodded, sometimes in agreement, other times I nodded when I disagreed because I wasn’t sure what they meant.


This was the main reason I started ‘Speak Simple’ five years ago. My inability to understand the jargon that everyone around me was using became the generating power behind our success.


For the revolutionary Direct Insurance I.D.I. Company (the first direct insurance company in Israel) we wrote policies suitable for telesales ~ a mere half-page long. The customers liked them, the regulator gave its blessing, and the company thrived.


Speak Simple promotes administrative simplification in Israel. We explain to banks, insurance companies, telecommunications concerns, and the Ministries how they can benefit from the simplification revolution. Our first customers were companies who knew me personally, and liked my work as a Chief Executive Officer. Gradually, the word spread and more companies approached us.


We feel the change in the air. Organisations who had profited in the past by baffling their customers realised that clarity was more profitable. The cellular industry, to name just one, is undergoing a huge change. It lost billions on complex, clumsy products it was unable to service and support. Customers rebelled against the style of language the industry was using, and took it to court for its failure to deliver what was promised or not promised ~ who knows?


‘Regulation’ is the most common excuse regulated industries use for their unwillingness to simplify things. It is only that ~ an excuse! Writing simple text even under strict regulatory demands is possible. We maintain a continuous dialogue with the Israeli Commissionaires and government regulators and are met with goodwill and an open door.


Over the years we have enjoyed a warm welcome and a lot of help from Plain English Campaign. Each request was answered gladly, and their treasure of information and know-how guided us in many cases.


We believe we do things a little bit differently than Plain English Campaign. In principle, we have a two-step approach to document simplification.


First, we deal with the text itself. We shorten it and then change the structure and graphics to make it as readable as possible. This will typically shorten the document by 20% to 25%.


Then we dive into the work-processes behind the document. We ask the company some tough questions. Are they sure this process is necessary? If not, could they waive that process to simplify matters for their clients? Would they consider omitting a certain paragraph altogether if it made the document easier to understand?


If we are successful in this re-engineering exercise, it will result in a further 40% cut in the length of the document. The extra benefit of this approach is a clearer, leaner, more profitable work-process for the company.


Here is an example. In Israel, every motor-vehicle insurance policy contains a ‘reinstating clause’. This means that if you make a claim you have to re-buy the part of the insurance policy under which you were paid out. This clause is a page long. Customers were annoyed and didn’t understand why they should have to pay extra for a policy they had already bought. An insurance company, tired of fighting angry customers, asked us to ‘do something’ about this inexplicable clause by rewriting it into something that was short and clear.


We decided to go one step further. We found out that the company’s yearly income from this clause was equal in shekels (our currency) to the number of policies sold. We suggested that they simply put the price of their premiums up by one shekel and get rid of the clause. They now offer an improved product which doesn’t upset their customers and they were happy to pay us for our time.