But it need not be that way, according to Susie Gear, director of Clear Communications. Organisations in all sectors, from financial services to retail and manufacturing to the Government, can see dramatic cost savings and other benefits through improving the presentation of bills, application forms and other documents they send out regularly, she says.
As the name of her company suggests, the aim is primarily making the message as clear and simple as possible. Research in Britain and the United States has conclusively shown that even comparatively sophisticated customers are consistently turned off by repetitious application forms, hard- to-decipher account statements and impenetrable bills. This is particularly important when new customers are becoming ever harder to obtain, Ms Gear says.
The cost to organisations is also high. The Inland Revenue, for example, has calculated that it costs pounds 15 to deal with every spoiled form.
It also appears that communications is a neglected area, compared with, say advertising. Although a recent report by KPMG Peat Marwick and Siegel & Gale, parent company of Clear Communications and itself owned by Saatchi & Saatchi, showed that documentation typically consumed between 3 and 10 per cent of a company's operating costs, it also revealed that 93 per cent of managers did not know the cost.
This is largely because different departments, such as marketing, technical and legal affairs, will typically make their own contributions to a document without any overall control, producing a patchwork effect that at best looks thrown together or at worst requires duplication of information. Clear Communications offers companies help in cutting through the 'confusion, complexity and cost' of sending out bills or messages.
The company, which from last week began operating as a separate entity, has already worked with a number of well- known clients. For instance, it helped BT develop its new, easier-to-understand phone bill and has produced a more 'user- friendly' mortgage application form for the Bank of Scotland. The former has found that its cash flow has improved because easier-to-read bills are paid more quickly, while the latter has seen cost savings.
But although the simpler, more attractive designs help reduce wastage of materials and time lost through handling questions, the benefits go much further, according to Ms Gear. Once businesses realise that bills and other documents can be marketing opportunities, they can use them to cross-sell, the way department stores do by using account statements to promote special deals.