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  Category: Articles » Business » Customer Service » Article

LINGO FRANCA: Overcoming Language Barriers Within the Same Language

By Craig Harrison

Are you on the same page with your customers? If not, perhaps there's simply a page missing. A page you design to help merchants, customers, clients and even co-workers speak the same language, use the same terms and communicate the same meanings.

Name That Sound!

Recently when I called my auto mechanic to complain of a new sound my car was making the conversation went something like this: "Patti, it's making a creaking noise." "Do you mean like a door with rusty hinges opening?" "No, Patti, more like wood burning in a fireplace" I told her. "Oh, Mr. Harrison, that's considered a cracking noise." She'd obviously done this before. Several questions later we identified my car's problem over the phone. Now we were clicking!

Synching Up Our Language

Let's face it. One person's grind is another person's groan. One person's whining is another's whistling. You say chirp, I say clap, but we can't call the whole thing off!
The Honda Motor Company, makers of Acuras, Accords and Preludes, created a "cheat sheet" to help Patti and other techs identify noises customers complain about. For every noise a car can make their chart lists a description of what the noise sounds like in common terms. Their tech reps play charade with calling customers, using their reference sheet to identify offending sounds.

For example, a customer complaining of_______ is asked if it sounds like _________:

BANGING.........Slamming of a wooden screen door?
CLANGING..........Cow bell or dinner bell?
FLUTTERING..........A flag flapping in the wind?
GROWLING..........Dog protecting his food?
JINGLING..........Keys hitting each other?
PINGING..........Pebbles rolling around in a tin can?
RAPPING..........Judge hitting his gavel?
WHISTLING..........Steam coming out of a tea kettle?

This cheat sheet of 50 different sounds is a wonderful tool for fostering understanding, thus saving time and money. The following week I was tending a sick Tibetan Terrier and tried to explain sounds Pierre the dog was making to a veterinary technician. Did we ever need a cheat sheet to find common ground!

Modern Day Lingua Franca through Cheat Sheets, FAQs, Lexicons and Conversion Charts

Consider creating cheat sheets or pocket reference guides that explain lingo, define acronyms, answer Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and more. They're good for communication, education and ultimately business!

Noah's Bagels gave me a taste of New York when I picked up a pamphlet of theirs that taught me key Yiddish phrases. Starbucks taught me my first Italian when they converted me from small-medium-large to Tall, Grande, Venti. In each case was being groomed to an organization's 'lingo' franca!

You can derive value from creating a definition page full of countries and currency names, a laminated pocket guide to time zones, a tips sheet of transaction terms or a chart that serves as an easy reference guide for options, categories of packages of services or products you offer. Whether you or your graphics department creates these tools they're an investment in success. These visual tools are both service- and sales-oriented.

Success in business is predicated on the ability to communicate with and understand each other. Using the same terms and agreeing upon their meaning goes a long way toward partnering for success. When you do, you'll hear one of my favorite sounds:
CHA-CHING. . . the sound of your cash register receiving payments.
About the Author
Craig Harrison is a professional speaker, corporate trainer and communication consultant who founded Expressions of Excellence! to cultivate credible and confident communicators and stellar sales and service organizations. Visit his website at

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