Lifestyle Marketing

The State of the Spoken Langauge

For the past several months I’ve been providing captioning services for people who are hard of hearing and use one of those caption phones that let them read their conversations. Many customers are older people who also use hearing aids. I’ve written about how people are speaking faster than ever before, which makes conversation harder to follow (and caption!), and how telemarketing staff can improve sales to older folks by adapting their speech. It’s an interesting perch that lets me observe the state of the spoken language for a few hours each week.

I’ve certainly become more aware of my own speech patterns and speed. I’ve got my own fast-talking teenager who is nice enough to slow it down for me and his elderly (89 years old) grandfather who refuses to wear hearing aids.

Here are some other observations I’ve jotted down over the past several weeks.

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. Huh?
I have not actually heard this one but I’m waiting…/Pixabay, QuinnTheIslander

Phrases Can Come Back

Some phrases, like Tony Bennet, can have popular comebacks.

The most recent one is “blah blah blah.” Maybe it’s because it’s summer and people are tired and don’t feel like talking. Between the heat, storm, floods, and wildfires, it’s not been an easy summer for a lot of people. I’ve even heard the occasional “yadda yadda yadda,” an even bigger surprise because that one really got overworked in the 1990s.

Several weeks ago, I started hearing a phrase I don’t think I’d heard since childhood: “okey-dokey.” And it wasn’t coming from the people for whom I caption—it was from people speaking to them. Many of them sounded middle-aged or younger, and they were from all different backgrounds including a guy who sold farm equipment, schedulers in physician offices, hair stylists, and even tech support people.

“Okey-dokey” is something I recall being said by adults to children and my first reaction upon hearing it was that it was from one of those well-meaning but annoying people who talk to older people as if they are children. But then the farm equipment guy used it after a discussion with a customer about the right kind of tubing to use for an irrigation project.  The two were clearly acquaintances–they commiserated over the mess known as the Colorado River Compact–and I recall they also discussed parts for a second-hand tractor someone was trying to sell.

By the way, the software we use to record our captions focuses on the other party to a call. We generally don’t hear our own customers very well since we are only captioning the speech of the other person on the line. Sometimes we don’t hear customers at all.

The Urban Dictionary says “okey-dokey” first appeared around 1930. Another contributor said it’s a way to agree with something that’s pretty lame (like your boss reminding you about getting reports in on time), and yet another said it’s another way to tell someone to go fuck yourself.

Bless Their Hearts

Which brings me to another phrase: “bless your heart.” I was made aware by a friend who grew up in Tennessee, in a town literally halfway between Memphis and Nashville, that this is the Southerners’ way of saying precisely the same thing. It made me rethink a lot of people who I thought were my friends when I lived in the DC area.

I hear “bless your heart” so often among southerners that I assumed the phrase is intended for Yankees. But it’s all in the context of the conversation, as this Bless Your Heart 101 article from Southern Living explains. After reading it, I’m pretty sure that the empathetic version is only intended for fellow Southerners. Either that or they spend a lot of time on the phone with people they don’t like, bless their hearts.

Here are some other phrases Southern Living says are unique to the south but I declare I heard many of these growing up in New Jersey. I won’t argue their origin, though, because that conversation won’t amount to a hill of beans and we can talk about it til the cows come home. Be sure to watch the accompanying video, too—it’s a hoot.

Sports Idioms Live On In Spoken Language

Sports idioms in the spoken language live on and it’s a crowded field out there.

All across the nation, people leave voice messages that they “just wanted to touch base,” a phrase I rarely hear spoken live to another person. Interestingly, I hear this most often in messages left by women, usually to men.

Men talk a lot about “Monday Morning quarterbacking” oddly enough, it seems, mid-week. I could be imagining it but I caption more men mid-week than on Mondays and Fridays. I hear this particular phrase in the rare political conversation and among people who got stuck in a bad weather situation. Farmers also use it: many have thrown their hands up in the air when it comes to the weather.

And those tests the doctor orders? They want the whole nine yards. But if you want to know how much a medication will cost, even a ballpark figure, forget it. They say they have to jump through too many hoops to get this.

I once worked with someone who broke up with a guy because she couldn’t stand that he said “okey-dokey.”

Do you have a favorite or least favorite colloquialism, idiom, or clichè?





How Friendly is Your Outgoing Voicemail?

Have you ever been put off by an outgoing voicemail or auto-response email?

A lot has been written about email since it’s a terrifically effective marketing tool. Marketers and their writing staff understand that subject lines have to be appealing and accurate to entice people to open the email.

Not so for voicemails. And although we aren’t directly selling through voicemail, it’s time to think of it as a marketing message and treat it this way. After all, voicemail is customer-facing and for many, it’s their first introduction to you and your company.

No Place for Voicemails That Annoy or Intimidate

I’ve continued to hear voicemail like this over the years:

“Hello, you’ve reached <name> at <business>. I am either on another line or with a customer. Please leave me a message and your contact information and I will return your call at my earliest convenience. (Italics are mine.)

Is your outgoing voicemail putting off callers?
“Should I leave a voicemail or hang up?”

Frankly, I’m sometimes afraid to leave a message after hearing something like this. I don’t want to be the cause of an existential threat by inconveniencing the person behind the voice.

A few months ago, I came upon this kind of voicemail. I was afraid I’d stutter or lapse into babbling so I simply hung up and emailed the person.

I was intrigued enough to look for this person’s LinkedIn profile. She’s smiling and there are a couple of very nice testimonials from people who worked with her. She can’t be that bad. So why the intimidating voicemail?

I Stress Over My Outgoing Voicemail

I have some insights into the power of an outgoing voicemail message. Early in my relationship with my boyfriend, he told me I sounded “scary” on my business voicemail.

I was horrified to hear this.

My son agreed with him. “You do sound kind of mean, Mom.”

So I re-recorded my voicemail message over and over until I thought it sounded friendlier. I tried really, really hard to make sure I wasn’t speaking too fast (I grew up back East) and to tone down my accent. (I need ‘cawfee’ in the morning.)

I asked several people to review it, getting thumbs-up from all.

Son and BF both assured me the new message was better. Still, I listen to it every couple of months to detect possible unfriendliness or other unintended messages.

It’s important to sound approachable. It’s not like we can smile over the phone.

Tell Callers You Really Do Want to Talk to Them

My brother has the best outgoing message I’ve ever heard.

“You’ve reached Dan Chinitz at Creative Bath Sales. I can’t get to the phone right now but please leave me a message and tell me how I can help you and I will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you for calling!”

Think about how that reads. Doesn’t it sound like Dan really wants you to leave a message? He’ll get back to you ASAP, and not at his “convenience.”

It’s always good form to return a call within one day, particularly if you say anything along the lines of “as soon as possible.” I’ve had return calls that are so far after my initial contact that I have to wrack my brain to remember who this person/company is and why I made the contact in the first place.

If you really struggle with finding time to respond to phone messages within business hours, do offer up your email or website as well as other ways to get in touch. No one cares if you respond to an email afterhours.

Make Sure You Leave a Vacation Message

When I was in the office world, I was regularly confounded by the number of colleagues whose voicemails didn’t mention they were out of the office or include this in an auto-respond email.

If I felt I was being put off, how did their customers (and potential customers) feel?

If you expect to get any emails or calls when you’re away, do everyone a courtesy and just say you are out of the office and when you will return.

  • If possible, refer callers to a colleague.
  • If you check your voicemail when you’re out of the office, it’s still good to let callers know you’re away so they don’t expect a prompt return call.
  • Keep your message short. Callers really don’t need to know if you’re sick or broke your leg.
  • If you’ll be out on long-term leave, have your calls forwarded to a colleague.

Now, how can I help you?