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using the right word or phrase February 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Experiences, Observations.
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A few years ago, Yoshi, a friend of The Speak, was working at Starbucks. I caught him on IM:

That Guy: what do you do, exactly?
Yoshi: Starbucks Barista
That Guy: tell me something — is it in the manual that you MUST say “venti mocha frappuccino” whenever someone orders a “large”? or do the people at the starbucks near my office do it out of spite?
Yoshi: Yes. If a customer uses the incorrect terminology, we have to say it the correct way when presenting their drinks. No, it’s not out of spite.
That Guy: thanks for clearing that up. I really had been wondering

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Esparta.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Esparta.

This may have changed; the conversation is, as I said, a few years old.

But it brings up something that many employees find themselves dealing with on a regular basis: using the right word or phrase, because if you don’t, your boss is going to get ticked off.

When I was a bit younger, I worked at an educational assistance center (similar to Sylvan Learning Center). My specialty was with students who needed help with their writing. Our supervisor said that we weren’t “tutors”, we were “consultants”. How many high-school and college students think “consultant” when they think “help me with my English paper”? So we called ourselves “tutors” whenever the supervisor wasn’t in earshot. Except for this one blind spot, she was a great person to work for and I still hold her in very high regard. This was just something she refused to budge on.

What about now?

Sometimes it falls to me to answer e-mails from our company’s contact form. I don’t mind doing it, but I have to be very exact and very polite. If someone asks me “why’d you get rid of This Product? It was awesome! The new version sucks major balls!” I can’t say something like “because you either progress forward or you fall behind, asshat.” I can be a little passive-aggressive by writing a slightly-condescending e-mail back to the customer, but in the end I have to toe the company line.

Words have a lot of power, and companies depend upon their employees to use the right ones — adhering to the product description, talking to clients and customers, and remaining consistent with documentation are only a few of the reasons. But here’s three big ones:

Kleenex.

Xerox.

Band-Aid.

“Venti” is getting close — Starbucks has been insisting long enough on their employees using the right terms that regular Starbucks customers are starting to say “tall” when they mean “small” and so on. I did it last night when I stopped off for a tall espresso truffle, decaf, no whip. I didn’t even think about it; I just did it.

The power of the right word.

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