There’s been talk in the office today about unwieldy terms and conditions. How long is too long?
According to research conducted for Fairer Finance, some banks and car insurers have ridiculously long terms and conditions. Worst of the bunch, but not by much, were HSBC’s with 34,162 words. Close behind were several insurers whose terms ran for more than 30,000 words. No wonder that 73% of people don’t bother reading them at all.
To give you some context, Orwell’s Animal Farm has 29,966 words and that’s a book about society, oppression, politics and the human condition. Then these companies ask us to read longer and more complicated documents about car insurance as we juggle a job, family, bills and everything else. It’s not just a problem for the UK, either. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University reckoned it would take the average American 76 working days just to read all the privacy T&C they encounter online each year.
While terms and conditions are essential for business, they shouldn’t be this long. While big firms have the money and resources to simplify things if they really wanted to, smaller companies can’t make changes as easily. So what’s the answer? Here’s an idea off the top of my head: summarise.
Each time you get a customer query that involves T&C, make a note of the question and the conditions it related to. Over time, you’ll build up a picture of what terms people keeping asking about. You can then summarise what they mean in simple language and present these to people separately. It’s not a replacement for your actual T&C, but it’s like having a member of staff explain them in a nicer manner. You should still check with a solicitor before doing anything, but this way you might be able address common concerns without the expense of gutting your terms entirely.
If you want to get really creative, you can even hide things in your terms. An American company inserted a clause offering $1,000 to anybody that contacted them about it; it took five months and 3,000 sales before someone claimed the cash.
Actually, maybe that’s an idea for big companies – give people a discount for reading T&C. How much would you want for wading through 34,162 words? Let us know your price in the comments and on Twitter @eurofficecouk
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