“It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree.” – Charles Baudelaire

A few weeks ago, my wife called me at work when my back was up against the wall on a tight copy deadline. She complained that she saw a bunch of big fat flies buzzing around our living room and kitchen.

“So go out and buy some fly traps,” I said testily – annoyed that she would bother me about such a trivial matter.

When I got home, I saw half a dozen small potted plants placed strategically around the living room and kitchen.

“What are these?” I asked her.

“You asked me to buy fly traps,” she said, as if speaking to an idiot. “These are Venus Flytraps.”

Of course, I had meant for her to go to the supermarket or hardware store and buy fly paper… or fly motels… or any other kind of chemical fly traps – not carnivorous plants.

So… what does all this have to do with your marketing? Simply this: The way in which you communicate to people permeates your entire business – marketing, sales, support, credit and collection, and customer service.

Now, you may think you are communicating in a clear and unambiguous fashion – just as I did when I told my wife to buy “fly traps.” But no matter how clear or direct you are, your customer may not understand you… for one of four reasons.

First, you may not be as articulate as you think you are. Many of us are not.

Second, you may be using jargon your customers are unfamiliar with – or talking about ideas or technology they lack the background to understand.

Third, your customers may in fact be slow or impatient learners – in certain areas, anyway.

LR, a loyal subscriber to my e-newsletter, has bought and asked for a refund on a number of my e-books. Why? Because he refuses to learn how to download and use Adobe Acrobat Reader. Each time, he grumbles: “Why can’t you sell regular books and not e-books?” (We now offer to print and mail a hard copy for a small extra fee.)

Fourth, no matter how precise and clear you are, some customers are still going to misunderstand you.

Example: One of my customers sent me a nasty e-mail complaining that the quality of the audio CDs I sent him was crappy, because they did not work. “I put the CDs in every player in my house and car,” he wrote. “They didn’t play in any of them.”

I called him up and politely said: “Could you remove one of the disks and look at the label?”

“Okay,” he said, as testily as his e-mail. “So what?”

I then asked him to read the first line of the label, which is printed in big, bold type.

“Dee Vee Dee,” he annunciated slowly.

“Yes. And that’s why it won’t play in your CD player,” I replied politely. “It’s a DVD, not a CD. You play it on a DVD player.”

“Oops,” he said sheepishly. “Sorry.” And immediately hung up.

My point?

As the marketer, seller, and service provider, it is incumbent upon you to make all your customer communications as clear as crystal. But no matter how clearly you communicate with people, some are bound to misunderstand you.

When it happens, they may become unjustly irate or rude with you. Even so, treat them with nothing but kindness and patience as you help them solve their problem.

Communication is an integral part of marketing… selling… customer service… credit and collections – and virtually every other area of your business.

Follow the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said (and I am paraphrasing) that it is not enough to communicate so clearly that your customers can understand you. You must communicate so clearly that your customers cannot possibly misunderstand you (even though some still will anyway).

By the way, the post script to my story about our fly problem is that the Venus Flytraps my wife bought actually worked! Flies are attracted to the bright red surface inside the thing. (Perhaps they think it’s food.) When a fly lands, a sensor alerts the plant. The trap closes around the fly, imprisoning it. The plant then secretes some sort of juice that slowly digests it.

I came home the next night to find my wife trying to pry open one of the traps in which a fly had been caught.

“What are you doing?” I asked in amazement.

Turns out she felt sorry for the fly… and didn’t want it to suffer.

[Ed. Note: Master copywriter and best-selling author Bob Bly is the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters Edition. a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business. Sign up for Bob’s free monthly e-zine, The Direct Response Letter, and get more than $100 in free bonuses.]

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.