Don’t Turn Your Company Into a Tower of Babel


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During a recent flight on US Airways, I heard the following cabin announcement: “We are dimming the cabin lights but you can find your personal light in the passenger service unit.”

Passenger Service Unit?

They were referring to the controls for air flow and light on the ceiling above the seat. I wish they had translated their jargon into every day language.

Unfortunately, many businesses forget how to speak in a language that their customers can readily understand. Case in point: the contract for a new insurance policy or telephone seem designed only to be understood by lawyers who can read Latin and bandy about terms such as inter alia.

But the worst offenders are often tech companies. In 2009, The Gadget Helpline in England surveyed 5,000 people about tech terms they find most confusing and discovered that customers struggle to fully comprehend the meaning of words such as WAP, Cookie, and Dongle. Nokia phones, meanwhile, include something termed a “Navi Key.” Reporting on the survey results, the BBC included the following quote by Peter Griffiths, campaign secretary for the Plain English Campaign:

“We need to pull our head out of the digital clouds and use plain English,” he said.

“If changing the name isn’t an option then a glossary of terms would work. Not only does it explain the language, but it’s a nice way of learning for people who don’t have such a good grasp of the language.”

Don’t let your company turn into a Tower of Babel. No matter what kind of lingo you use in-house when talking with fellow employees, make an effort to talk in language, style, and tone that your customer will understand. It will strengthen your bond with them and they won’t come away from the experience feeling frustrated (or, worse, stupid).

Steps/Guidelines for how to use your customer’s language in your company…

What is their language?

* Listen to customers to tune in to their language. The way that they talk about, or describe, aspects of your product or service may vary from your own terminology and descriptions. You can listen in through social media, customer service phone calls, and your research or even sales calls – you name it. What language do they use for your services, your industry, their needs, etc. You can also talk to your front line employees about language your customers commonly use.

* Take a customer to lunch – once a week or once a month, keeps the sound of their voice in your head. (Then be sure to share what you hear with others internally!)

How to keep their language in mind

* What to do – keep customer language near all your employees – even those who don’t interact with customers. It needs to become a habit to adopt customer language – not internal shorthand, acronyms or worse. This can be sharing customer ‘verbatims’ – meaning quotes from customers internally (see section below).

Where to use this new language

* Use this language in your outbound communication – your marketing, website, social media, sales materials, in customer service calls.

* Use this language internally – in meetings, in discussion with employees. Share customer feedback regularly.

You’ll find that the more you listen and adopt the language of your customers, the more your customers will feel an affinity and kinship with you. We are all looking for relationships that really connect with us, our interests and reflect ourselves – try these basic ideas and see how it helps you.

Kim Proctor
Kim has a passion for improving the customer experience and loves the online space. Having spent most of her career on the web, Kim is a consultant that knows how to grow web traffic, leverage social media and grow deeper customer relationships. She has consulted for a wide range of companies from small business to the Fortune 500. For more info, see


  1. Kim is the perfect author to write on marketing to clients! I’ve used her in the past and have worked with her on several projects for my business. Glad to see this article! Love the intro to US Airways too. I’m not a big fan of that airline. I’ve never had great success flying with them. They do not “hug” their customers.


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