People Who Speak the Right Language Win

People Who Speak the Right Language Win

It's late afternoon. For the last 2 hours you've been waiting in line at your local DMV. Such a simple thing as registering a car, but nobody gets it here.

You'd expect to stop by and say "Hey, my name's Jack and I've just bought a new BMW. Thank you!", but it's more complicated.

The person in front of you is now trying to fill From 343. They got stuck at the ELT Ownership section. Whatever that means. You heard the friendly officer saying that they'll also have to fill REG 256.


This is going to be fun.

Use the Right Language to Win

Bureaucracy gives a lot of great examples of failures in communication. But it also proves that sometimes it's worth to adapt.

Take a look at this scene from The Accountant:

At first you'll see an accountant trying to help older couple sort out their taxes. But it you listen closely, you'll notice that he acts as a translator. He teaches the woman how to talk to the IRS in their dialect of English.

She no longer works at home but runs a home-based business. She cannot deduct her dining room from taxes, but she can do that with her office. And when it comes to her car, it's not just any truck - it's her company's truck.

It takes a bit of effort to get used to these words, but the benefit of adapting is obvious. The government suddenly understands her, and she's eligible for multiple tax exemptions.

But how does this relate to software products?

Your English is Not Someone Else's English

It doesn't matter whether you work at IRS, a company that sells services or a software product company. Your organization has its own jargon that's specific to the company or industry. It's not necessarily the same language that the end-users are used to.

Person choosing a TV show

For example, how would you describe what Netflix does? For a regular person it means movies and tv shows on the internet. Simple.

But from their internal perspective producing or buying rights to content in order to stream it via its own CDN network is quite a big deal.

Producing a TV show

Would you subscribe to a service advertised in such words?

Would knowing that your ISP is a part of Netflix Open Connect make you more excited about it?


Clarity = Happy Customers

The thing is that everyone loves it when people use their language when speaking to them. Hearing familiar words and understanding the message right away makes us feel comfortable. It gives us the sense that the other side has good intentions and understands us.

How many times have you told your mom that the icon above is just a web browser, not "the internet"?

The good thing with moms is that they care and don't give up easily. On the other hand if she was your customer, she'd quickly start hanging out with someone who understands her instead of pointing out mistakes.

If They Get Lost, You've Lost Them

Imagine a stereotypical software developer trying to explain his work to business-oriented people. It often goes like that:

- Are we ready to start signing up our first clients?

- Yeah, I've created a database migration that creates
table for users and adds index on their facebook ids. I also added views for that.

- Ok, so are we ready to start signing people up?

Even though both sides are speaking about the same thing, it's hard for them to understand each other.

Every single time when you speak to someone in a jargon they don't understand, you risk losing their attention and trust.

Person lost during a meeting

In a face to face meeting you may notice someone nodding their head with a blank expression on their face. You'll later learn that they didn't follow the conversation. If they really care about what you're talking about, they'll keep asking you to repeat or explain. They'll also become more and more frustrated.

In software products, most people who get confused will end up dropping off. Closing a browser window doesn't require as much courage as leaving a meeting, so they won't even bother to pretend they enjoy it.
And when it comes to those who really need your app... well, make sure the "call support" button is easily accessible.

Become a Parrot

To make your words clear for your users, you need to repeat after them.

Repeat after your customers

Do your research and figure out how they call things. When talking to them, reading their emails or support tickets pay special attention to the words they use repeatedly that sound weird to you. Do they say colleagues for what you know as human resources? Note it down!

Once you've figured out their language, start using it yourself. Make sure it's consistently used across your websites, sales materials and the product itself.

If possible, try adopting your users' jargon at your company. It may sound strange at the beginning, but it will ensure that the whole team that works on the product understands the user's language.

And besides preventing your internal jargon from leaking outside, it will also simplify communication between developers, designers, product people and the end users.

Hey Matt, this client is having a problem when adding a new colleague to his company. Could you take a look into the code?

No translation needed.

Speak TO Your Users, Not at Them

Surprisingly, two people living next to each other may use totally different words to describe the same things. The organizations we work for or the industries introduce slight variations to the language we use in every day life.

It's easy to overlook it, but it brings a lot of confusion to people who aren't familiar with it.

Make it easier for them and use the right words!

Did you like this?

We write about building software products, no fluff included.
Leave your email and we'll let you know when we publish a new post.