P. Wynn Norman's adaptation of Alex Schroeder's "Customer Service, Sales, and Plain Talk"

This article provides a rationale for why you can be a more effective communicator by using every language that matches your customers' speaking styles.

What is “plain talk”? Plain talk is talk that is meant to be understood. It is ordinary and meant to serve a purpose. You could call it functional. Plain talk aims to talk neither above, nor below, the listener’s intelligence. It is a kind way of speaking. The goal of plain talk is to be understood. You could also call it friendly talk. If you were to think of plain talk as a living person, it would be a person who likes and is liked by just about everyone.

Salespeople have a long history of using plain talk. Why? Because their paychecks depend on it. When a salesperson makes a sale, the reason, almost always, is because they communicated clearly with the public. Customer service agents may not be rewarded as explicitly as salespeople for using plain talk, but it is undeniable that they can be punished for failing to use it.

For example, the previous paragraph contains the word explicitly. Do you know what that word means? Are you sure? If you aren’t, and if you didn’t have to read this material, would you be more or less inclined to keep reading it? After all, if you really need this information, that word may signal to you that you’ll have to spend extra time looking up words in a dictionary just to get the information you need here.

The image is from XKCD: A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math and Language, http://xkcd.com/547/ | CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

The same situation occurs when a sales person or customer service agent uses what some call “fancy talk” instead of “plain talk”: Many customers will stop listening and go elsewhere for what they need – and for salespeople, losing a customer means losing a big chunk of their paychecks.

Customer service agents can learn a great deal from successful salespeople. Here are some guidelines they follow: 

  • Ask questions to learn how much your customer already knows. 
  • Adjust your style and speed to match your customer’s style and speed as best you can.
  • Give only relevant information for the sale. Don’t show customers everything in the store.
  • Start with the general and easily grasped information, then get to the nitty gritty. For example, start with “you’re less likely to run into problems making calls with this company” before you explain 3G CDMA and how it is more efficient than TDMA networks.
  • Be clear. Don’t assume that your customer knows a lot about what you’re talking about. You can always get more specific, but it’s hard to pull someone back once you’ve lost them.
  • Don’t treat your customer like an idiot – you’ll lose the sale.
  • Use short, clear sentences and non-stilted grammar. Don’t show off how smart you can be inverting your word orders; instead, show off how clear you can be.
  • Use only precise words that are appropriate to the context.
  • Make sure you have learned about any problem with the product or service you represent and can explain them and resolve them in a simple, straightforward, and quick way.

Last modified: Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 11:40 AM