How to Use the Magic of Language to Effectively Talk to Your Customers

Businesses have always had competition. But in the days of the internet and digital revolution, the pressure to gain and keep customers is more difficult than ever. It's so easy for consumers to shop around or switch to one of your competitors if you don't satisfy their needs right away with your product or service.

Being a communication professor, one of the things that I teach and write about is the power of language. The words you use to talk to someone literally will shape their experience. In fact, the conclusions in my doctoral dissertation found the same thing. I studied religious and spiritual communication and found that how a message is "packaged" is a large determining factor in how a person interprets and responds to it.

Semantics, or word choice, is a very important part of the business experience. From initial advertising to ongoing communication with your customers, it's vital that businesses pay attention to every word they write or speak.

Here's an example. If you've ever been to Disney World, you will know that the employees there are "cast members." That sure sounds a lot better than an employee, doesn't it? It doesn't matter if you're walking around in a Mickey Mouse suit or picking up garbage around the park, everyone is a "cast member." This type of usage of language also trickles down to the guests at the park. Calling the employees a "cast member" makes you feel like you're in a movie - exactly the kind of experience that Disney wants its customers to have.

Another specific example is how the company, Luggage Free, uses language. This is a business in New York that is a luggage shipping service. President Jeff Boyd states, "we rely heavily on our customer's ability to trust us, which is more easily accomplished when they feel in control." It is for this reason, that they like to present information to their clients in the form of a question. For example, he also says, "It can be something as simple as asking a client if we can pick up at 9:00 a.m. instead of telling them we need to pick up at 9:00 a.m. The end result is almost always the same - the 9:00 a.m. pick up - but the difference between asking them and telling them is significant to their experience." This form of semantics makes sure their customers feel in control throughout the process. Boyd continues, "It doesn't exactly fit the traditional definition of semantics, but we use the concept as inspiration for the way we interact with our clients." If you're like most people, you don't like being told what to do. So this strategy is particularly effective for many businesses such as this one.

If you pay attention, there are endless examples of how companies effectively use the magic of language to shape their customers' experience. At Target, I always get asked if I would "like to save 5% on every purchase by getting a Target card." That sounds a lot better than, "Hey, do you want another credit card that you don't need?" Or if you're at a restaurant, sometimes you'll hear the server ask if you're still enjoying your meal, instead of simply asking if you are done eating. Sounds a lot more polite, right? And wouldn't you rather purchase a "pre-owned car" instead of a "used car?"

I think you get the point.

When I was in college, I was an advertising major. However, a family friend advised me that if I wanted to go into advertising that I should major in psychology. That didn't make any sense to me when I was 17 years old, but it sure does now. That's all selling and marketing is - understanding consumer psychology. And there is plenty of evidence that consumer attitudes are shaped by influencing the thoughts and beliefs consumers have about a service.

Another effective strategy is to persuade your customers through use of emotion. Emotion is a powerful and necessary strategy in order to make a sale. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, more than half of a customer's experience is an emotional one, which is the main component that drives purchasing decisions. And one such strategy for having your clients emotionally connect to your product or service is making a positive first impression and making them feel like they are the ones in charge.

So if you own a business, don't forget the power of language. You can say something one way and drive customers away. Or, you can say basically the exact same thing in a different way and have them flocking to buy from you. It's up to you.

Even if you don't have a business, the power of language is always at work - even in our personal lives. The goal is to make someone WANT to listen to you. And KEEP listening to you. It's not very difficult to do, if you just know how to use the magic of language.