Nerves kick in as I weave my way past rows of fat people munching on fried chicken and simultaneously shoving coins into slot machines. I’m looking for Caesar’s Palace Conference Center but all I can see is a giant bust of Nero and rows of busy blackjack tables. It’s 8am.

At 9am, having eaten my own way through a Vegas breakfast buffet the length of a tube carriage, I’m ready to present six hours of brand new material onhow to write cost-effective customer care copy at Jakob Nielsen’s Usability Week.

This is a credit-crunch friendly course, expounding the virtues of investing in those often overlooked bits of text on websites and email that can actually show enormous ROI if given a bit of attention. So we’re talking transactional and order confirmation emails, sign-up pages, reassurance text around forms, security messages and FAQs.

While my course summary on the NN/g website clearly states that this is a highly practical session, that hasn’t stopped a Russian and two Swedes signing up for the day-long copy workshop.

The Swedes, of course, turn out to have a better grasp of English than most Brits, ask brilliant questions and transform the day with their enthusiasm for what better web text might do for their scheduling software sales. The Russian mostly spends the day typing a CMS spec for his colleagues back in Moscow.

Also in the class is a Kiwi, who sells iPhone apps and has a fantastic grasp of how to write web-friendly, benefit-driven copy. The only trouble is his partner - who writes a lot of the text on their website and  iTunes page -isn’t quite up to speed yet...

Most interesting debate of the day is where we work out how to give customers bad news via email. For example a scenario where customer service can only be delivered by email and not by phone.

We agree that the best way to manage expectations is to be upfront and apologetic and to focus on the inherent benefits of what you can deliver. Which might go something like this:

‘We understand you’d prefer to speak to us on the phone and we’re sorry we can’t offer you this service yet...However we’re really good at fixing things via email and if you give that a try, we promise we’ll work with you until the problem is solved. You can email us round the clock and you’ll get a personal reply within 2 hours <add contact details>’

I also furthered my one-woman mission to eradicate the phrase ‘denotes mandatory field’ from websites around the globe. Most satisfactorily, last time I had this rant (at AdTech) the editor of a travel website emailed me afterwards to confirm that removing this from a sign-up form had resulted in an uplift in sales. As the Americans would say, who knew? 

Actually I did. And on that smug note, I weave back through the casino, resisting the lure of the roulette table to go and mug up on tomorrow’s 'Building a Brand Tone of Voice Online' session and have an early night. How pathetically un-Vegas...

Catherine Toole

Published 15 October, 2009 by Catherine Toole

Catherine Toole is Founder and Managing Director of Sticky Content, and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (4)



What do you suggest using instead of ‘denotes mandatory field’?

almost 9 years ago

Catherine Toole

Catherine Toole, ceo at Sticky Content

I'd suggest something plainer such as '* = boxes that must be filled in' or 'You must fill in the fields marked *'

There are many plain English, less robotic alternatives you could go with and of course I'd suggest you wrote one in your brand tone of voice but surely the real question is: if the field is not 'mandatory' why the hell are you wasting my time with it anyway?

almost 9 years ago

Rupert Hughes

Rupert Hughes, Managing Consultant at Firehorse Digital

Hi Catherine,

Sounds like the conference went well.

I'd say that there are times when you need non-mandatory fields. For example, some people would never fill in a contact us form if it required them to fill in a phone number, but others may have a query where they'd prefer to be telephoned with the answer, so for those it makes sense to offer a phone field .

Of course, you could always do some cleverness in the interface so that people are only shown the fields they must fill in, based on their preferences (e.g. in the example above, you ask people how they would like to be contacted and then display form fields based on that choice), which I suppose shows that good form design goes hand in hand with great form copy.

Am now off to check my sites for incidences of "mandatory" and its marginally less mechanical cousin "required", and consign them to the waste bin of form-copy history.

almost 9 years ago


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over 3 years ago

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