Are Old-Fashioned Phrases Hurting Your Business?

December 3, 2008

As someone who travels from one insurance company to another teaching “Effective Business Writing for Claims Professionals,” I am often amazed at the great number of claims letters that are weighed down with ancient, stodgy phrases that make each letter reminiscent of the 19th Century.

How many letters do you see each day that contain “enclosed please find,” “under separate cover,” and “please do not hesitate to contact me”?

I recently visited a 200-employee insurance firm in upstate New York. During my seminar, one of the claims adjusters showed me the claims department’s book of form letters. There were more than 80 of them (not counting ones that had exclusionary language by state). I found out that, on average, each of those letters is sent out 30 times a month.

80 X 30 = 2,400 letters a month X 12 months = 28, 800 letters a year.

If each letter had only four of these awful phrases, that’s more than 100,000 of them a year! If you think they are not hurting your business, think again.

These phrases not only alienate the insured and engender a front office tone, they also chip away at the long-lasting relationships your company seems to maintain. They have a negative impact on relationships with doctors, attorneys, insurance commissioners and colleagues alike.

10 Most Common and Awful Phrases
Here’s my “Letterman’s list” of the 10 most common — and awful — antiquated phrases in the insurance industry. Next time you review a typical claims adjuster’s or examiner’s correspondence, see how many you find:

1. Yours very truly. — No you’re not! Use sincerely.

2. Please be advised … — Legalese and stand-offish. I’m willing to bet that 90 percent of the time that you write the word “advise” you really mean “tell” or “inform.”

3. Above-captioned loss.— Why not just name the loss and let the reader keep reading? If, for example, the “captioned” loss in the RE line is written, “Insured: John Jones,” you could write “the John Jones loss” and keep readers with you without distracting them.

4. Kindly — How about please?

5. Please do not hesitate to … — A light, bright phrase about 40 years ago, but now, like any other clichĂ©, this phrase is paying a price for its popularity. Don’t be the millionth person to recycle this phrase.

6. I have forwarded …— This reminds me of a “forward” pass in football! Use sent.

7. Please note that… — Patronizing. Makes me feel as though I should run and get my notebook. Omit it.

8. Enclosed please find … — Exactly what is there to be found? Reminds me of the joke about the fellow who goes into a restaurant and orders a steak dinner. Later, the waiter asks: “How did you find your steak?” The customer replies, “Well, I moved the mashed potatoes and there it was!” Use “I’ve enclosed” or “Enclosed is.” By the way, it’s perfectly OK to use “I” in business writing. After all, you are doing the enclosing.

9. Under separate cover. — This phrase reminds me of a big spaghetti pot and its “cover.” You are sending it separately (or by FedEx, etc.).

10. Contact the undersigned. — Ridiculous! You are the undersigned (at least most of the time you are) and should write “contact me” or “call me.”

Other Old-Fashioned Phrases to Avoid
The following are some other old-fashioned phrases to watch out for. Each is followed by a suggested substitute:

1. “affords us the opportunity” substitute with “gives us the opportunity”

2. “as per our discussion” substitute with “as we discussed”

3. “amongst” substitute with “among”

4. “at your earliest convenience” substitute with “by next week”

5. “attached herewith” substitute with “attached is, here is”

6. “beg to differ” substitute with “disagree”

7. “by virtue of” substitute with “because of”

8. “deem it advisable” substitute with “suggest”

9. “furnish” substitute with “give me, send”

10. “in the event that” substitute with “if”

11. “it is advisable” substitute with “I suggest”

By banishing these phrases — and many others, like “we are in receipt of …” — from your company’s correspondence, you will be taking a simply but potent step in improving your company’s image, increasing morale, keeping customers, and encouraging modern, clear, concise writing.

Blake presents on-site seminars as well as webinars in “Effective Business Writing for Claims Professionals” at more than 50 insurance companies, and is the author of “The Elements of Business Writing (Macmillan).” Web site: www.writingworkshop.com.

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