Customer Service Language.

Customer Service Language.

First a customer service confession: I forgot to pay a bill. Got no good excuse, just didn’t see it when I sat down to do my monthlies and it slipped my mind. Don’t judge, don’t hate, let’s just move on…

I didn’t recognize the number on my cellphone but I answered it anyway – hey, you never know. By the third word out of the customer service rep’s mouth I knew she had no idea who I was because she pronounced my last name “TUR-kle” instead of “Tur-KELL,” the way anyone who knows me says it.

“Hello, Bruce Turkel?” (Pronounced TUR-kle).


“This is Samantha Smith, customer service representative at XYZ Bank” (beautiful southern accent, by the way).


“Your account didn’t post.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your account didn’t post.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Your account didn’t post.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“YOUR ACCOUNT DIDN’T POST.” (She was a decibel away from yelling now).

“I heard you, Ms. Smith, I just don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“It means your account at XYZ Bank. Did. Not. Post.”

Customer Service Language“I’m really sorry but I don’t know what post means. I know about blog posts, I know about light posts, I know about post times and I know about Post Cereals. I even know about post mortems. But I don’t know what it means when an account doesn’t post.”

“Oh. It means we didn’t post a payment to your account.”

“You didn’t post a… Oh, you mean my payment’s late? Oops, I probably forgot to pay it. Wait, I’ll look… (a few keyboard clicks later) You’re right. I didn’t pay my bill. That was stupid of me. Why didn’t you just say so? I’ll take care of it immediately.”

“Thank you sir. Is there anything else XYZ Bank customer service can do for you today?”

I bit my tongue. “No thanks. Appreciate the customer service reminder. I’ll take care of it the minute I hang up.” And I did.

Have you ever been in a tense medical situation and spoken to a doctor who communicated in medical jargon you didn’t understand? Asymetric thoraxal reflux, perhaps, or cardiotropic defribulation? Have you ever met with your accountant to discuss taxes and been flummoxed by negative amortization schedules and accelerated deduction contra accounts or other industry terms that made no sense? Have you ever listened to people talk in slang or use inside jokes you couldn’t follow? Have you ever been with people who were speaking a language you didn’t understand even though you were supposed to be part of the conversation?

It would make sense that customer service people who already have the difficult enough task of dealing with angry clients or explaining obtuse software or reminding people they didn’t pay their bills on time would make everyone’s lives easier by speaking in simple terms that anyone could follow.

If you train customer service reps try this illustrative experiment. Have them do an English language crossword puzzle from a country foreign to them. Even simple puzzles are almost impossible to complete because while English might be their mother tongue, not growing up in Canada or England or New Zealand or India or wherever means they can understand the words but not the cultural references or the clues. It’s no different than a customer who can understand the language but not the inside jargon the customer service rep uses.

Communicating in clear, unambiguous language is a simple way to make the transaction better for the customer, the customer service rep, and the company itself. And that’s a win-win-win outcome any way you say it.

By | 2015-05-26T09:52:23+00:00 May 26th, 2015|9 Comments


  1. Mike Spinner May 27, 2015 at 12:12 pm - Reply


  2. Scott sime May 27, 2015 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    Been on that same call

  3. Bill Mahoney May 30, 2015 at 11:22 am - Reply

    Hi Bruce…been there, even done some of that…unfortunately! I learned that lesson the hard way after having been in the corporate benefits business for about 20 years. (Now in our 53rd year! Glad I learned the lesson “early”!)
    Great blog!

  4. Rosa Llaguno May 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Hi Bruce! Happens more often than i care to admit. I think part of the problem is education and training. That customer service rep was trained in one lingo and you are trained in another. Even when you are not working you are already hard-wired to think as you are trained. What happens? Exactly what you describe. It’s why doctors don’t understand legalize and lawyers get lost in the beaurcracy of government, etc. Lesson: keep it simple. Thanks for your great blog and insights.

  5. Tim Daniels May 30, 2015 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    When I first served on an advisory board, we had regular presentations from industry “professionals.” Without exception, they used their jargon to relay information. I didn’t want to speak up at first because I thought I would look dumb (er). Then I realized most of the other board members didn’t understand either. I finally got up the courage to tell them to repeat everything in laymen terms. Well, you’d have thought I wanted their Soc. Sec. number. But I made them do it, and eventually, I didn’t have to ask. And as you might guess, the meetings got friendlier, easier, and shorter. AND, we all turned into better advisers, and were less like sheep.

  6. Shep Hyken May 30, 2015 at 10:55 pm - Reply

    It can be very frustrating to the customer when an employee uses industry jargon or acronyms that the customer doesn’t understand. This is a humorous example of exactly that.

  7. Brandi Stone June 1, 2015 at 10:59 am - Reply

    That’s a funny story, and makes a great example!

    I work in marketing and this past weekend some family members were doing a garage sale. My husband and I had the following conversation:
    Me: Did they put up any signs or do any advertising on the local Facebook selling groups?
    Husband: I don’t know. I saw one small sign.
    Me: Well they live on a dead end street, so it’s not like they will be getting organic traffic. They need to advertise.
    Husband: Organic traffic?
    Me: Oh, uh, it’s a marketing term.
    Husband: Please never use that again.

    Although some of the terms are ingrained into my brain, sometimes it’s better not to use them because it can make you sound a little ridiculous in everyday conversations. lol!

    • Bruce Turkel June 1, 2015 at 1:01 pm - Reply

      Hey, I resemble the remark! “ Organic traffic!” Love that. Thanks.

  8. new Hindi jokes December 25, 2016 at 1:30 pm - Reply


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