My friend Michelle and I recently had a conversation about the use of adjectives. It went something like this:
“I could really go for some ice cream right now.”
“That would be mind-blowing.”
“Let’s keep an eye out for a place. I'm craving some chocolate chip."
“Yeah, chocolate chip ice cream would be epic.”
“Ok, but what happens if one of us wins the lottery? How would we describe that?! We’ve already wasted mind-blowing and epic on chocolate chip ice cream.”
I’m pretty sure I ripped this idea from a comedian, probably Louis C.K., but the idea rings true. A lot of words get tossed around without much thought.
In truth, chocolate chip ice cream would have been really nice at that moment. But mind-blowing?
Here’s the definition of mind-blowing according to dictionary.com:
- Overwhelming; astounding
- Producing a hallucinogenic effect
I like chocolate chip ice cream but it doesn't rise to the level of overwhelming or astounding. And, I try really hard not to visit the kinds of places that would serve ice cream with hallucinogenic side effects.
Marketers, journalists, and bloggers use these types of adjectives like they’re going out of style. Try Googling "Mind-blowing ________" where you fill in the blank with your topic of interest. Then prepare to be moderately informed. Your mind will definitely not be blown.
It’s not really their fault. Many of us (myself included) use these types of hype-laden words in everyday conversation without really giving them much thought.
This is a problem with meaningless words in customer service too.
Consider these common customer service questions that have lost virtually all meaning from rampant overuse:
- How are you today?
- Did you find everything alright?
- Is there anything else I can help you with?
The cashiers at my local grocery often ask “Did you find everything alright?” It must be part of the script, because they ask it nearly every time. I sometimes say “No.”
That leads to awkwardness. (Clearly, I’m supposed to say “Yes.”) There's stunned silence or a small grunt of acknowledgement before the cashier returns to cashiering.
Once in awhile, an adventurous cashier asks for more information. “What weren’t you able to find?”
“You were out of frozen chicken breasts.”
More awkwardness. “Oh. Sorry.”
Why do we bother asking these questions? Like the over-hyped adjectives mind-blowing and epic, we’ve stopped thinking about them. We just say the words.
There are other customer service pet peeves when it comes to words. Many customer service managers tell me they cringe when they hear one of their employees say “No problem” to a customer.
The feeling is it sends the wrong message, as if serving the customer might have been a problem, just not this time.
The problem with “No problem” is that it’s used instinctively. A client of mine once shared the “No problem” challenge with me and then unconsciously blurted “No problem!” in response to an unrelated issue just two minutes later.
So, what can be done?
My suggestion is to think more clearly about what we’re trying to accomplish with our words.
- Save adjectives like mind-blowing and epic for times when they really apply.
- Never ask questions we don’t want the answer to.
- Be thoughtful about the words we use with customers.
It's not easy, but it would be amazing if we could do better.