My bank sent me a 500-words letter on the subject of income tax deduction at source for the interest on my deposits. This is a typical official letter, to cover their actions. It starts stating that I would be aware of related income tax rules and still quotes them.
If my taxable income is below some threshold, if I am a male and a senior citizen or a female irrespective of age, I could submit Forms 15H or 15G. The letter gives me my PAN number as per their record and that if it is found to be wrong, they would deduct tax at 20%. Do they suspect their own records? If a financial institution knowingly keeps suspect data, the practice can lead to complications. When they took my PAN details, they had verified it to be correct. Now, how and when will they verify it again? They can do it online manually or with a software tool. Why could they not write to me decisively after verification that my PAN is wrong and they would deduct tax @20%. If not, why burden me with irrelevant information?
A few lines later, the letter states that if they do not have my PAN records, they would deduct tax @20% – having once admitted in the same letter that they have the details.
The bank’s records have my sex and date of birth. They could have written what rules apply to me and saved me the trouble of going through if, then, else, decision process.
The letter does not mention the rate at which the bank would deduct income tax if PAN is correct and my income is taxable. This is the relevant information for me.
The officer of the bank who attended my call was irritated that I do not understand such simple things. When he knew the rules and understood the letter, here was a dumb customer wasting his time with stupid queries. He repeated the contents of the letter, but could not explain to satisfy me. After rambling for two minutes, he asked me to contact the manager. The manager was kind and patient to understand my confusion and cleared my doubts. Total time spent to understand the communication was about 15 person-minutes. She then went defensive telling that the letter was as drafted by the head office and she had nothing to do with it. Would she try to improve it? She would convey my feedback to the ‘concerned’ person. If someone was concerned, probably the situation would not have occurred.
This is a standard letter sent from the bank to lakhs of their customers. Unless the addressee knows the rules, the letter does not convey its intent and intended actions.
Even if 1,000 customers do not understand the letter and call the bank, clarification comes at the cost of irritation to the customer and the bank staff. With average 15 minutes per case, 250 person-hours are lost. The bank’s computer system has all the related details. To write a program to generate personalised letters to customers would be a day’s work, one time effort.
The case of bank is only an example of corporate communication. Standard letters go out in bulk. Their text is often confusing, leading to inaction or wrong responses. The language is heavy officialese starting with “The undersigned is directed to state that …” It is never clear who has directed. Information about the undersigned is at the end of the letter, where someone signs for someone else. Who is accountable? We never know.
If organisations review the bulk letters they send, personalise and simplify them, result will be less confusion and more efficiency. This will save money and improve employee morale who do not have to struggle with dumb customers like me if the communication is clear. Organisations don’t even have to work to bring this simple change – their software vendors can implement this.