Words Do Matter: Understand the Power of Your Choices

By Chuck Boyce

How many times have you been confronted with a word, saying, or response in a retail or customer service environment that hit a nerve and sent you through the roof? In the same way, you need to look and listen carefully to the words that your staff is using when they interact with your callers. Customer service agents are bombarded with so much negative language that unless you have coached them otherwise they will tend to parrot the language they have experienced.

Don’t believe me? Have a conversation with a five year old. My daughter Ally is five and has two cousins close to her age that she sees often. If you listen carefully while having a conversation with them, you will get a good idea of the type of language they are exposed to through the television they watch, the music they hear, the books they read, and the stories that are told to them.

For example, Ally is obsessed with the book, Junie B. Jones and the Stupid, Stinky Bus. Do you want to guess which word in that title she has chosen to obsess on and use constantly? I’ll give you a hint – it isn’t “stinky.” Therefore, it has now become my job to educate her on the appropriate use of the word “stupid,” and how used incorrectly it can hurt people’s feelings.

This also holds true in the language of business. It is important that you develop a customer service lexicon for your call center. This may be even more important than developing a process and procedure to handle every possible scenario a customer service person may encounter. Armed with a solid foundation of what can and cannot be done and the language to explain it to a caller can go a long way in empowering call center staff and providing the best possible experience and outcome.

Tony Hseih, the CEO of Zappos.com stresses that culture is more important than procedures when training new representatives in the Zappos call center. I would contend that the language of the business and the way employees at Zappos speak to each other and to the customer makes up a large portion of the Zappos culture.

Creating the vocabulary of your call center starts with how you refer to the people and companies that give you money in exchange for your products and services. Take a moment and write down the words you use to refer to these people and companies. Look at your list and write down all of the associations that you have with the terms you put on your list. Are they all positive? Do they all focus on the positive aspect of your relationship with those who represent the lifeblood of your business?

Have the members of your team complete this exercise, and then discuss their associations with the terms you use for your clients and their callers. Just as with the five-year-olds, you will start to get a clear picture of how the world and the media are influencing your call center employees.

Finally, after you figure out the best way to refer to your clients and their callers, make sure that it is communicated throughout your organization. Just like explaining something to a five-year-old, you need to spend a good amount of time answering the question, “Why?” Assisting your staff to understand the “why” behind the choice will help to speed its adoption, especially if you can have some fun with it.

Here are three tips for communicating the importance of the relationship to your staff.

  • Illustrate the importance of the clients and their callers. Draw the link between your clients and your employees’ paychecks.
  • Discuss how clients and their callers are to be treated and respected by everyone in your company.
  • Charge everyone with evaluating their routine and interactions. Are you maximizing every opportunity to further the relationship with your clients?

Remember, the words we hear and speak can have a profound impact on those around us. Building a common lexicon within your business reinforces the importance of the relationship with those persons that give us their money in exchange for our products and services. This exchange is critical to securing the future of the company, as well as the future of everyone it supports.

Chuck Boyce was asked to be part of a brand-new edition of Dan Kennedy’s The Ultimate Success Secret.

[From Connection Magazine June 2009]