Advocate for Change: How You Can Demand to Understand

Charlene Raytek is a strategy director in Simplification for the Siegel+Gale New York office.

Our last post introduced our third video in our Demand to Understand campaign. Today, we’re posting an article that tells you how to Demand to Understand.

Stop Waiving Your Rights: Demand to Understand

For most consumers, reading every single document received, from companies providing our healthcare, car insurance, cable service, credit cards, checking and brokerage‚is at the bottom of the ‘do’ list. It’s as if they arrive with a subliminal message: “Don’t read this.Trust us.”

This may be delightful news to many shortsighted companies who are betting that we’ll simply roll over and play dead.

Tiny changes (a new deductible here, a higher fee there) implemented by companies can cost us hundreds, even thousands of dollars each year and leave us dumbfounded about how our accounts and services work. Worse yet, we might overlook a key deadline (to agree, disagree, accept, decline, dispute) with financial implications.

Each time we stack up unopened envelopes, skip the important changes and throw away the terms and conditions, our understanding of our rights and responsibilities dies a little more.

It’s like waving a white flag of surrender.

At first, these changes seem minuscule, but trust me, they’re a big deal. If they weren’t significant, companies wouldn’t spend millions of dollars to send the letters to every single customer.

Why is it worth reading?

1. Read to ‘make a decision’ — Often documents overtly say that you have a decision to make. However, each communication you receive is an inflection point to decide if you want to continue doing business with a company. Ask yourself; are these accounts/services/products still right for me? Give yourself a litmus test. You should be able to explain the purpose of the document to a close friend or your child. Decide if it’s in your best interest. If not, make a change.

2. Read for ‘dollars’ — Read as though you expect to find $500 worth of valuable information in each document. How much is your time worth? Spend half an hour to read those (easy to ignore) online banking emails and you might learn something that will save you $100 a year in transaction fees on your accounts. Learn a little more about your health, car, and property insurance, including what’s covered (or not) and what it really costs. You’ll probably gain hundreds of dollars in unused benefits and services.

3. Choose companies that ‘get it’ — Great companies deliver a customer experience that helps their customers make smart decisions. You’ll know who they are by how simple, clear, and upfront they are about your services and options.

What to do

Let’s all (stop waiving and) start understanding:

1. Open your mail. If the document doesn’t make sense to you, trust me, it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.

2. Call, email, or write to the company’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, Customer Relations Director or even the CEO to complain about confusing information.

3. Walk into your local office and meet with staff who can answer your questions.

4. Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers, about what you received, They probably received it, too.

Remember, if you don’t take the time to read and understand what companies are sending, you are actually waiving your rights. For more ideas on demanding better information and stopping complexity, visit

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Center for Plain Language (

Printed April 19, 2014


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