Andrea Gardner is an author, on-line copy specialist and self-development speaker who may be best known for her viral video “The Power Of Words.”
In the video you see a blind man sitting on the sidewalk of a busy business district with a tin can and cardboard sign by his side that reads “I’m blind. Please help.” Most of the people in the area are oblivious to his presence but a few who walk by him drop a coin or two in his direction.
Along comes a woman dressed in what appears to be executive attire who walks right pass the man before she suddenly stops, backtracks and picks up his sign and with a marker, writes something on the back. While she’s writing, the man reaches out and touches her shoes. When she finishes, she returns the sign next to him and walks away. Whatever she’s written on that piece of cardboard is now facing passer bys.
As more pedestrians walk up and down the sidewalk where the blind man sits, he begins to realize a measurable increase in generosity as more and more people stop to drop coins in his tin can. In the last few seconds of the less than 2 minute video, the woman who had rewritten his sign returns to see how he’s doing. He reaches out again to touch her shoes and remembers that she had been there before. In the only spoken words of the video he asks, “What did you do to my sign?” To which the young lady responds, “I wrote the same but with different words.” And, as she walks away again, the camera pans to the sign that reads, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.” The end credit follows with the wording “Change Your Words. Change Your World.”
The video is not only emotionally powerful, the title and the theme is a reminder that the words we use in our businesses really do have power.
Our words often paint an appealing picture that influences customers to make use of our products or services.
Words have meaning. Properly chosen words can create a sense of security, trust and comfort. There is power behind the words we use. But, above all, choosing the right words and/or key phrases in your interactions can make a difference in influencing how your customers act, feel and sometimes think. Plus, the right words can be the defining difference between a poor customer experience and one that is extraordinary.
As an example, Disney refers to its theme park employees as “cast members” because they aren’t just hired for a job; they play a role in the “show.” Disney also refers to “customers” as “guests.” That choice of words, “cast member” & “guest,” also changes the traditional dynamic of employee/customer relationships and interactions.
According to the article “People Management Lessons From Disney,” published by the Disney Institute, “Disney uses its unique corporate culture to unite all workers in a common goal: to help the guest. Walt once said, ‘I tell the security police that they are never to consider themselves cops. They are there to help people. The visitors are our guests. Once you get the policy going, it grows.’”
Just as cast members are performing their job of helping guests by playing a role, customers who are referred to and treated as guests behave differently, as well. As a frequent guest at Walt Disney World, I can personally attest that the terminology has a positive effect on my attitude, behavior and experience. each time my wife and I visit.
As a business owner, it’s easy to believe that you always choose your words wisely in your interactions with your customers. Even though you may be using words and phrases that you believe are generally accepted as meaning one thing, they may be interpreted as an entirely different meaning to the reader or listener.
Your choice of words can either enchant or annoy, creating a positive or adverse effect on the relationship you want your customers to experience.
According to one study, nearly 70% of customers quit doing business with a company because they felt they were treated rudely or with indifference. In many cases, those responsible for making the customer feel unappreciated were probably unaware of the adverse impact of their words and tone.
Even though you may carefully review every piece of information you present to your customers, you may be overlooking phrases and words that can potentially—and unintentionally—leave them feeling unimportant and unhappy.
Sadly, most customers aren’t going to tell you that they were offended or bothered by what was said. They’ll simply look for another service provider that provides a better experience.
In the book “Words Can Change Your Brain,” researchers Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, found that positive wording can actually change the way we see reality. Simply by using positive words, you can make your customers (and yourself) feel more positive. Adding more positive power words to your interactions with your customers can make a huge difference in the outcome of their experience.
As Mark Twain said,
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
Careful selection of the proper words will help you enlighten customers and avoid unexpected flash points in the delivery of your “WOW!” customer experience.
If you truly wish to “Change Your Words, Change Your World,” here are a few commonly used words that need your attention.
“No problem.” – We love it when our customers show their appreciation and gratitude for something special we’ve done on their behalf. You might even reply with “No problem.” Seems like a rather innocuous response, right? But, to a customer’s ears, it can come across as dismissive and unappreciated. It could also sound like it was a problem for you to deal with it.
When a customer rewards you with a thank you, they deserve to hear “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure” or “Happy to do it” or “I’m always happy to be of assistance.” These words let your customer know that you are proactive in being of service to them and not only look forward to lending a helping hand when needed, you are always available to do so.
“But.” – “But” can be easily misconstrued as argumentative and as totally discounting your customer’s input. By interjecting the word “but” the customer will suspect that bad news is coming and you effectively negate everything positive said before it. Instead of “but,” respond with “and.” “That’s a great idea and if ….” Now offer an idea to make their idea even better. than they imagined.
In other words, don’t make the customer feel ignorant by rejecting their ideas out of hand. Build on their “impossible” idea with your make it “possible” expertise.
“Let me know if you need anything.” – That closing line in an email sounds like an open offer to be of assistance, doesn’t it? Yes and no. It’s great that you’re making yourself available to help but you’re putting the burden of effort on the client to contact you. Plus, it rings of “only bother me when you need to.”
Be more proactive and engaging by closing your emails with “How else can I be of service to you today?” “What other questions may I answer for you?” Use these email closes (or others that may be more appropriate) as a constant reminder that you aren’t just waiting to be of help but are standing at the ready to be of assistance—even if their original correspondence has nothing to do with asking for assistance.
“Sorry, that’s our policy.” – No doubt, your company has rules and policies that help it run efficiently. You may even require a signed contract and retainer before performing a service. Your goal is to provide the best possible service or product within the limits of these guidelines. Too often, though, companies strictly adhere to what they believe should be a one-size-fits-all policy, even when a customer makes a reasonable request in a situation that doesn’t fit under that policy.
It’s better to look for creative solutions to the customer’s problem rather than rejecting a reasonable request without due consideration. When necessary your internal rules and regulations act as a safeguard that will prevent a customer from taking advantage of your business. Don’t make your customer feel that you are taking advantage of them by ignoring a request that can be easily accommodated. Being the hero—doing what is in the best interest of your customers will assure you of enough return business and referrals to offset any losses. The alternative is to the negative reviews that are the result of a bad customer experience.
“Department.” – Whether problems originated in your sales or marketing team might seem like a big deal to you, but your customers aren’t interested in your organizational structure. They just want to talk to a human and resolve their issue. Customers say that one of their greatest frustrations when contacting customer service is being bounced around to different departments. If the need arises to check with another department, the customer doesn’t need to know it. Say, “My friends,” or, “My colleagues,” and you’ll sound much more human.
Seth Godin wrote,
“The simplest customer service frustration question of all: ‘Why isn’t this as important to you as it is to me?’”
Changing the way in which you interact with your customers, the terminology you use and how you think of them, they’ll never feel the need to ask that question of you.
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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