Cleaning & Restoration Association News

It's All In How You Say It

December 9, 2003
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"Let us go down there and confuse their language so they may not listen... That is why its name came to be called Babel." - Genesis 11: 7,9

For thousands of years the world has been divided by language. Wars have been fought, lives have been lost, families have been divided solely because of lack of communication. This is true even when all parties involved are speaking the same language.

On a recent trip to England (where they supposedly speak English) Sioux and I encountered constant reminders of the difficulties of communicating. As one old English country squire told me, "Ah, England and America. One people divided by a common tongue!"

Here are a few examples:

  • Crisps
  • Grockles
  • Pegs
  • Strop
  • Jelly bits


  • Potato chips
  • Unwanted tourists
  • Clothespins
  • Tantrum
  • Meat gristle

    So what about you and your customers? Are you "one people divided by a common tongue"? How you (and your employees) speak can have a profound effect in your business. Let's look at carpet cleaning and restoration phrases commonly used and how they can be made "softer" and more pleasing to the ear of your customer.

    "The carpets will be wet for..." Carpets are never "wet," thank you very much. Carpets are always "damp" (Of course, if your unit isn't working right they may be "damp" for several days, but that is a topic for another column).

    "I'll come over and give you an estimate..." Please remove completely the word "estimate" from your vocabulary. Why? Because estimate focuses the customer on only one thing: how much? Is price part of the buying equation? Absolutely. But the cost is only one thing for the homeowner to consider when making their decision on a carpet cleaner. So use words such as "inspection" (my personal favorite), "audit" or "exam."

    "You'll have to move the..." I always say I "have to" only do two things: Die and pay taxes. So please, never tell a customer they have to do anything. You may say, "Would you mind...?" or "I would really appreciate it if..." or even "We always request ..." But the phrase "You will have to..." just puts a really bad taste in the customer's mouth (and ears).

    "All of our chemicals are..." Do we as carpet cleaners use chemicals to safely and efficiently clean our customer's home? Of course. But doesn't the phrase "cleaning agents" sound better to your customer, especially in these paranoid times?

    "We always wipe down your baseboards with a rag..." No, no, no. Housewives use rags. Professionals use "towels."
    Speaking of being professional, train your employees to use proper terms when communicating with each other and with the homeowner. "Water supply hose" instead of "garden hose" or "vacuum extraction hose" instead of the "gray snake." All professions (medical, legal, engineering, et al) have a language that gains them respect from those listening. We should be no different.

    "We'll need to rip your carpets out..." This phase pains me even to write it down, much less to hear it spoken to an already traumatized water loss customer. How much better to say, "Mrs. Jones, with your permission I'm going to carefully disengage the carpets from the tackless strip so we can start the drying process."

    "I'm going to cut and patch where this stain is..." Whoa! I don't think so. Both "cut" and "patch" carry a lot of negative emotional baggage. Why not try this phrase out: "Mrs. Jones, this is a permanent discoloration in your carpet. However, I believe I can restore the appearance by doing a bonded insert..."
    Remember, it's all in how you say it.

    "We'll clean up all the smoke..." Remember, when working with insurance adjusters or homeowners suffering from a smoke loss you never "clean" anything. You perform "residue removal." Why? Because anybody can clean. But only a properly trained and equipped professional company (charging a premium price for their experience and knowledge) can perform "residue removal."

    It really is all in how you say it.

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