Cool it with the insider lingo when talking to customers

Here at SNEWS® we frequently field customer questions even though we are, first and foremost, a trade publication. Many times, those questions are directed to us from customers looking for help in finding a store, or getting some quick advice on where to buy particular kinds of products. Naturally, we love helping customers, but sometimes, as happened last week, we end up getting additional questions from customers asking us to explain some vague terminology heard while making a visit to a specialty store we recommended or looking for a product or type of product we mentioned. Too often, that vague terminology is simply a result of a salesperson resorting to insider lingo to either sound cool in front of the customer, or using it because they have gotten so comfortable using it themselves in conversation, they don’t know better.
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Here at SNEWS® we frequently field customer questions even though we are, first and foremost, a trade publication. Many times, those questions are directed to us from customers looking for help in finding a store, or getting some quick advice on where to buy particular kinds of products. Naturally, we love helping customers, but sometimes, as happened last week, we end up getting additional questions from customers asking us to explain some vague terminology heard while making a visit to a specialty store we recommended or looking for a product or type of product we mentioned. Too often, that vague terminology is simply a result of a salesperson resorting to insider lingo to either sound cool in front of the customer, or using it because they have gotten so comfortable using it themselves in conversation, they don’t know better.

The most recent incident sparked this story you are reading: We sent a woman into a store in the south looking for base layers – she suffers from Reynaud’s (a sensitivity to the cold that can be dangerous and debilitating that one of our own team member’s has) and she had asked us to provide advice regarding clothing to keep her warm so she could stay outside when it got cold. She was thrilled with the specialty store we sent her to and had an eye-opening experience about options in apparel and gear. But we were in fact less than thrilled to answer her subsequent question after a she came home to check with us again before a purchase:

“She (the salesperson) used the term ‘C1, C2’ a lot to describe the various materials. Do you know what that means?”

Yes, we do know what that means. It is referring to Patagonia Capilene and the number indicates the comparable weight – 1 is very lightweight for hot climates and staying cool during high activities levels; 2 is a little heavier but still lightweight and designed to keep the wearer dry and cool in a wider range of temperatures during high activity levels; and 3 is more like a mid-weight base layer and designed to keep the user warm and dry during moderate activity in colder weather; while 4 is similar to the old expedition weight and designed to keep the user warm and dry during low activity levels in cold weather. (For more, go to the Patagonia website explanation of Capilene by clicking here)

So here was our eager customer in a brand new world of choices, with money ready to lay down for gear to keep her more comfortable and safe while running outdoors in cool or cold weather, but she instead left without opening her wallet. Why? Because the salesperson confused her with insider lingo.

We’ve heard the same thing in the fitness arena too, for example, when a customer goes shopping for something to tone up and is told about how this-or-that piece can work on his or her lats, bi’s, tri’s and pecs. The customer nods, now truly concerned he or she has something to be worked on but, with no idea what or where it is, the person leaves to find someone else to buy from that he or she can understand. Worse, the person may just give up and buy nothing or may wing it, buying something cheap that offers unrealistic promises but ones that on the box are printed in plain English that is easily understood.

Bottom line: Most of the public just doesn’t want to look stupid and they do not speak industry insider lingo. Most of them won’t ask, “What’s that?” or say, “I don’t understand.” It’s against human nature since we all want to appear well-informed (Only journalists are actually trained or have the natural aptitude to look stupid and ask dumb questions – but we digress).

In this particular base-layer incident, the customer simply took the information in, probably nodded knowingly and said, “Yes” and “Oh” a lot, and then left, with no idea what the salesperson was talking about. Insider lingo that meant nothing to the customer.

The end of the story: In this case, we’ll explain to her and she’ll likely go back to buy. But SNEWS isn’t everywhere (although we wish we were and try to be). This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this and, unfortunately for the specialty industries we serve, this is not likely the last time we’ll hear this.

You see, we get very used to speaking in this insider lingo so train yourself to question every last word you use. Too bad there’s not a “lingo check” in our heads like there is a spell check in our word-processing programs.

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