Terms of Business - Legally Designed

How to make your Terms of Business more than just a tick box exercise



On the face of it, this is quite a bland subject! You might be worried that we inadvertently send the market for sleeping pills into turmoil.  BUT, hold on to your flurazepam hydrochloride for just a little bit longer because this is the story of why legally designed terms of business are becoming a point of difference for businesses!

What’s the problem with terms of business as they currently stand?

Terms of Business are essentially a contract between a seller of goods or services and their customer or client.  They set out the relationship between the two and once agreed, the parties have to abide by them. If anything goes wrong, everyone can look back through the terms to see what they promised each other.  Simple right?!

Right! It really is that simple. Unfortunately, contract language and format remain a huge problem.

Terms of business that are full of legal jargon, inappropriate verb structures, and long strings of words with out-dated vocabulary are the norm.

This leads to ambiguity and confusion, and I would bet my youngest child (she’s the noisiest) that most business owners don’t understand their own terms, let alone the very people they are asking to sign up to them.

You might think ‘who cares, so long as I’m covered’, but there are several problems with this approach, three of which I’ll summarise here.

First, you want to get to yes faster.  If people are having to re-read things that aren’t clear, or they’re struggling to find what they need then they’re going to be more reluctant to sign-off which can cause a bottleneck in your sales process.

Secondly, if nobody really understands the terms, or they simply can’t be arsed to read them because they can’t afford the three days it would take, then straight away you’ve entered into an agreement with someone who doesn’t really know what to expect from your service.

This can lead to confusion, disgruntlement, fighting and litigation. And litigation that you might not even win if your terms are deemed too ambiguous or incomprehensible.

Finally, and perhaps a little less obvious.  Your terms are often your customers/clients’ first experience of your brand, so why wouldn’t you want the first impression to be representative of your values?

Developing your terms of business should involve a thorough review of your business operations and procedures, and in drafting them you are presented with the opportunity to showcase the benefits of how you go about conducting your business.  You can show your customer “this is how we do things around here”. 

How do we get to simple, sleek and functional from documents that resemble transcripts from the Nuremberg trials?

There are  three core elements to consider when legally designing your terms and conditions.

Structure – what’s important and what are your main users most interested in understanding. Legal design is human-centered. Think about the person who you are trying to create a relationship with and what they want to see.

Language – they need to be written without using a code that only solicitors can decipher.  This isn’t too difficult, but it does require a slight shift in mindset and a bit of teamwork between your legal expert and the non-legal people in your organisation. Legal design is about making the user experience more enjoyable, language can go a long way in making that happen.

Format – do you really need a paper-based version of your terms?  Once you digitise your terms and conditions you have a few more options available to help the end-user to navigate the important bits. Think about how your user will interact with the terms and conditions. Surprise them (in a good way).

Applying this process to our own Terms of Business has resulted in a transition from this….

To this…

There are several benefits of embedding terms of business into a website.

  • They’re easily accessible – clients always have access to the latest version of your terms. They’ll always be on your website and you can refer to them in all other documentation and correspondence via a simple hyperlink
  • They’re easy to navigate – clients can quickly refer to the sections they’re most interested in
  • You can summarise the key information and provide the detail behind it – clients don’t have to search with a fine-toothed comb to find what they’re looking for and they can drill down deeper for more detail if they want to.
  • Less paper – I don’t need to explain the benefits

Ok, so what about sign-off?

Well, once digitised, there are all sorts of fancy tools that you can use to sign-off on documents.  At Lawbox, we use Adobe Sign within the Scoping Document that’s sent to every client.  Each scoping document includes a link to our terms and by signing it off, the client confirms that they’ve read our terms and are agreeable to them.  No printing out, everyone gets a copy of the signed-off documents automatically emailed to them, and away we go.  Simples!

It’s not just the readability and function that you’re improving, it’s also the entire client experience and ease of engagement. Remember that every touch point with your customer or client says something about you and your business. What do your terms and conditions say about you?

Who should be re-thinking their Terms of Business?

Clearly we’re a touch bias, but in our view, anyone who has terms that look anything like ours did before we decided to revisit them.

Next time you have five minutes, grab a coffee (a strong one), and spend some time reading through your existing terms.  If you stumble across anything that’s difficult to understand then it’s likely you have a problem!

Make your first impression count

The way you present your Terms of Business says a lot about you as a business. If you dare to be different and treat this customer touch point as one that is as vital as any other in your customer’s journey, you can delight in ways that your competitors don’t. They might just become a talking point (for all the right reasons).

If you want your terms of business to delight your customers, then why don’t you get in touch to find out what legal design can do for your business.

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