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Service words

In my reading, I’ve come across three unique words that have expanded my customer service vocabulary and, for me, reinforce various aspects of exceptional customer service: cosset, lagniappe, and bespoke.

A word of caution: William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White in their perennial book, Elements of Style, said, “Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.”

While I mostly agree with this advice, in a recent blog post I unapologetically described a supermarket employee’s behavior as “boorish.” I realize that I could have used “rude” (a ten-cent word) but decided against it.

I suppose it depends on your intent. If you’re trying to impress readers with your vocabulary, that’s obviously the wrong motivation. But if you’re attempting to convey the subtle distinction between, say, rude behavior (appearing indifferent) as opposed to boorish behavior (using vulgarities), then you have license to use the twenty-dollar word—despite the counsel of Messrs. Strunk and White.

So, tread lightly. The idea is not to alienate people—it’s to get their attention and, ultimately, to inspire them to deliver exceptional customer service.

Several years ago, while reading At Your Service by John Fischer, I came across the word, cosset which means to pamper or treat with excessive indulgence. It applies to, for example, the manner in which a restaurant guest’s coat is treated by the coat check attendant or the way a shopper’s loaf of bread and carton of eggs is handled by the employee who’s bagging her groceries.

More recently, I was introduced to the word, lagniappe by a friend, Stan Phelps, who champions this word in his marketing work. It means a small gift given with a purchase to a customer—a little extra or bonus. Lagniappes are the 13th bagel in a baker’s dozen or the extra stamp on your loyalty card that brings you one step closer to a complimentary latte.

And just last week, while reading the Wall Street Journal, I encountered the word, bespoke. Fortunately, the article contained its definition: “made to order; to customize.” I immediately saw its relevance in customer service: As opposed to the transactional mentality whereby each customer is treated like the last customer, employees can aspire to provide a bespoken experience—recognizing the unique needs and preferences of each individual customer.

When so many words pass by our eyes daily without registering for longer than it takes to form a sentence, these words are refreshing. To me, they have made lasting positive impressions and even reinforce the importance of handling my own customers with care, providing them with pleasant surprises, and customizing each customer’s experience as much as possible.

How about you? Can you think of some other unique words that apply to customer service and might also serve to reinforce different aspects of exceptional customer service?

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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