When you learn how to write a press release, you’re taught to get the 5 W’s into the first para, because those short-attention-span journalists may not read any further if they don’t get drawn into your story. The 5 W’s are Who, What, When, Where and Why.

It’s still a great guiding principle if you write for the web, as the online world has driven all people’s attention spans down to the length of a journalist’s, with the result that someone else’s content is always a click away.

Of all the W’s, the last one is the most important. On balance, it’s the only one that really matters. The ‘why’ explains the connection.

Consider these questions in the customer context:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why should I care?
  • Where is my order? This is otherwise known as WISMO in ecommerce.
  • How could you pull that stunt?

Despite what you might think, these are all why questions. Your customers are not interested in the ‘how’, because that’s generally about you, and that’s not a major concern to them. They generally don’t want to know how you made the meal, or how you built the aeroplane they’re riding in, or how you came to design the software to work that way. They want to know why they’re being charged extra, why the release is late, or why they can’t have it in blue.

I was coming back from the UK the other day on a Ryanair flight. It wasn’t one of those flights in the 93% that arrive on time. It wasn’t close to being on time, it was horrendously late. In fact it was one of the 1% of their flights that was over an hour late. Now this is very unusual for Ryanair, and the first time in probably 50 flights I had been seriously delayed, but it was late on a Thursday evening, the last flight out, and I was tired and irritable.

The trouble was, Ryanair kept delaying the departure time and not saying why. Even an apologetic text to each passenger did not say why the flight was delayed, so you start getting frustrated, and these days that frustration can boil over onto social media so easily. When you trade on your punctuality and you don’t deliver punctuality, you’re a bad flight away from losing a frequent flyer, at least if they have a choice of airlines, which of course is not always the case. Monopolies and near-monopolies in small and developing countries is a topic for another post.

When we finally got into the plane, the pilot came on the intercom to apologise for the plane running 1 hour and 35 minutes late.  This was because – and ‘because’ is the corollary to the ‘why’ question as you know, dear reader – that the previous plane developed a fault that couldn’t be fixed so they had to despatch a replacement aircraft from Dublin over to the UK to bring us back to Ireland. Well, that’s fair enough, I thought, it happens from time to time, that’s pretty much unavoidable. The frustration soon dissipated after that.

But why on earth did they not come clean with the why sooner? You owe it to your customers to always be transparent and give them the why whenever you can. Early and often is the golden rule, rather like voting in corrupt countries. Your customers will continue to love you for it.