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From Home Furnishing Business

Words Matter, So Be Careful Which Ones You Choose to Use

By Tom Zollar,

Our industry just lost one of its great leaders with the passing of Art Van Elslander, the founder and driving force behind Art Van Furniture. The company he recently sold has become arguably one of the most well run and smartest retailers in Home Furnishings. He will be missed, but his namesake business will certainly continue to grow and prosper because of the good decisions its management continues to make.

An example of this is the recently announced re-naming of their highly successful in-store clearance centers to Outlets. Their research told them that to millennials, their primary targeted consumer, the word “clearance” had a relatively negative connotation. while the name “outlets” carried a much more positive and exciting message. So, they are investing a lot of money to convert all of these areas to Outlets, all because of one word.

This made me think about how important the words we choose to use are in everything we do, both personally and professionally. That caused me to remember the famous standup routine the late George Carlin did in 1972. Yes, I am talking about his “7 Words You Can’t Say on TV” bit. It was hilarious and very provocative at the time, but it was always his message about words themselves that stuck with me.

For those that have never heard it or don’t recall it, here is what I am talking about:

He starts out by saying that he loves words; they are his work, his play and his passion. Then he says he wants to tell us something about words that he thinks is important. As a writer and coach, these statements also apply to me. In fact, I think they are valid for every person that uses words to communicate ideas and sell products – which is most of us. Here in his own words, is his core message about words:

Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought and we're stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words. I like to think that yeah, the same words that hurt can heal, it's a matter of how you pick them.

There are some people that aren't into all the words. There are some that would have you not use certain words. Yeah, there are 400,000 words in the English language and there are 7 of them that you can't say on television. What a ratio that is! 399,993 to 7. They must really be bad. They'd have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you 7, baaad words!

That's what they told us they were, remember? "That's a bad word!" No bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions, and words!

Today we can probably hear many of his original seven words on TV and depending on where we go, the others will most certainly jump out at us occasionally. In recent years our society has probably added hundreds of words to the list of things we can’t say because they are not considered “politically correct”. My thoughts always seem to come back to that last line: “No bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions, and words!”

No matter where you stand on Carlin’s list or the PC additions, I think we can all agree the most important thing about the words we choose is what they mean to the person we are saying them to. As Art Van found, some words carry stronger, more positive messages and create better reactions than others. Therefore, in order to get the best results from each interaction we have, we need to constantly analyze and assess which words are best to use in every situation.

To that end, I have put together my “Seven Words Choices You Should Say in a Home Furnishing Store” when talking with targeted consumers and staff members.

  • Words to Use in the Greeting – We all know how important the greeting is in the selling process, at least if you read this column often you do. It is your first chance to break through most consumers “I’m just looking” defense. Research and experience have shown us that the first words you say when approaching a potential customer are absolutely critical to your chances of connecting to them and having a meaningful conversation about what brought them into your store. They expect to hear the worn-out phrases like “can I help you” or “how are you” when they enter the store. We have found that the same words you use to greet someone visiting your home also work best in the store. Therefore, we recommend you use the words “Welcome” and “Thank You” in your greeting. A simple “Welcome to our store, thank you for coming in today” can put you on your way to connecting to more people.
  • Words for Needs Analysis – Once there is a willingness from the consumer to share her reasons for the store visit, one of the best things to do is ask what room she is working on. Once you know that, something like, “Please tell me about your room” tends to work well. Most people will want to discuss their problem with you once they perceive that you are there to help them and we find that talking about the room, what they like and what they don’t like about it, is a great way to move the process forward in a positive direction.
  • Words for Products – Sales people historically spend too much time and effort talking about the nuts and bolts of a product as opposed to the things a consumer really wants to know. Most often it is the aesthetics and function of an item that are their main priority. The proof is that the vast majority of people will not buy a product for their home, that they do not like the look or feel of no matter how much you discount it! Therefore, we need to “romance” the product and discuss what it does for the emotional wants of the customer, along with satisfying the practical needs they have. Words like: gentle flowing lines, softly contoured back, generously padded arms and luxurious pleated English arm, make you sound professional and add value to the product. In addition, we do not recommend you use the words “Special order” or “Custom order” when referring to pieces you order specifically for a customer. While we understand what they mean, those are not necessarily positive terms for them. We suggest that you tell customers you will “have one made for them”. This creates emotional ownership of it when you write the order and is much more positive as a concept to most consumers.
  • Words to Use for Delivery – There are many ways to refer to the process of getting the product to the customer. Internally it is fine to call it “Delivery”, but we do not find that to be a great word to use with the customer. The simple reason is that it tends to diminish the impression of what you are actually doing in their minds. As a result, they don’t think it is a value when you tell them the cost. To most consumers, delivery means throwing it on a truck and bringing it to their house. They have no idea what goes into getting that done properly. We understand that the delivery process includes: picking, assembling, prepping, repackaging, staging, loading, driving, unloading, moving old furniture, taking in new furniture, setting it up and removing packaging. You need to sell the value of what you do, so we recommend you create a new name such as White Glove Fulfillment Plan or Total In-Home Order Completion. Anything but just plain “Delivery”!
  • Words to Call Consumers – Our habit is to call everyone that enters our stores a customer. That is incorrect because most of them are not yet customers. They do not become a customer until they actually buy something from us. Until then they are only potential customers. In reality, they are just visitors the first time they come in. Many stores now refer to them as Guests, which we prefer because it reflects how they should be treated. Many of us also like to call everyone that enters “Clients”. That is an even greater misnomer since a client is a customer that has returned and bought from you again. It is the salesperson’s role to turn visitors/guests into customers and hopefully in doing so, please them enough that they return and buy again to become clients. It may be just words, but the better your staff understands these distinctions, the better they will be at creating sales.
  • Words to Call Your Traffic – This is perhaps a minor point, but we also find some issues with the way sales staffs look at the people coming into the store. Historically most of us have referred to those that come into our stores as “Traffic”. We then subdivide traffic into individual Ups, because like in Baseball, each time they wait on a potential customer, they are “Up to Bat”. While I really don’t have a huge problem with this, I think it is a bit dehumanizing and perhaps devalues what we are talking about. The real word to describe what people coming in our store create for us is “Opportunities”. Therefore, I would much rather ask how many Opportunities to create a customer/client a sales person had today, than how many Ups they took. Small issue but I hope you get my drift because words have a lot to do with what we think we are doing, so let’s be as specific and positive as we can be!
  • Words to Add Value - One of the best sales professionals I have experienced uses one phrase over and over during his presentations. He prefaces some of his statements with: “one of the reasons I love working here is” and then adds on something he wants to talk to about. So you might hear, “one of the reasons I love working here is our fantastic white glove delivery service” or “another reason I love working here is our vast product selection in such a wide range of price points” or “another reason I love working here is that I can sell with confidence because our Product Protection Plan really allows us to take great care of our clients”. It is just a very positive way to introduce an add-on service or reinforce reasons to buy at the store. Psychologically, if he likes working there so much, I am probably going to subconsciously be much more inclined to buy there!

This is most certainly not the be-all end-all, but perhaps it will get you thinking about not just what you say, but how to say it better! Sorry it wasn’t as funny as George’s seven were, but my hope is that you will get plenty of smiles from the results improving your word choices will deliver!

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