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Writings

Words to the Wise: 3 Fantastic Examples of Language Design

As I strolled dreary-eyed at 5:00 AM for another early flight at Boston Logan International, a simple phrase from the attendant at the biometric Clear stations caught my attention - "welcome back".

In my haze, I didn't think much of it until I heard it again on a return flight out of Miami - "welcome back". There it was again. It caught me so off guard the second time that I asked the attendant if they'd been trained to say that. She delightfully replied "yes - we think it's a nice way to say hello when you're with us." How right she is - both were delivered with such sincerity and warmth, I think it did make me feel welcomed.

Even for the most seasoned travelers among us (and certainly for those who dread it), finding ways to create a sense of homeliness and hospitality in a world that bustles with perpetual movement is a fantastic example of intentional scripting. Language offers myriad opportunities for this type of experience design, and yet, is routinely overlooked in the choreography of an experience. Here are three more ingenious ways brands have engineered and wielded language to elevate their experiences and differentiate their brands.

1) "Are you still enjoying that?"

Tucked inside the original Standard Hotel in West Hollywood is the delightful Croft Alleydiner. If you know me, you know how much I admire The Standard's history of experience design and hospitality innovation, but what makes this restaurant special is that it's part of the hotel property where guest experiences are shaped by Jon Disatapundhu. As others have rightly noted, Jon D. is one of the finest CX minds today. Over a recent coffee, he recounted a subtle but profound anecdote about how a server takes a plate.

Most simply approach and ask "are you done with that?" As Jon D. would explain, this can put the customer in a tight spot. Perhaps you've experienced this - you're on a date, the dish is delicious, and although you're not done with it, the server's question makes you feel as though you don't want to correct them and appear as though you're overindulging. So even though you'd love to keep eating, you frustratingly reply "yes" - giving a disappointing affirmative to save face. Whether you consciously realize it or not, that subtle phrase can put a negative touch on what otherwise was a great meal.

Jon's guidance? "Are you still enjoying that?"

It's a simple turn of phrase, but it expertly navigates a question that can otherwise corner a customer. Now, the customer can use the positive affect, because it affirms the expected enjoyment (as opposed to the negative framing of expecting the completion of the meal). It's a subtle piece of language design, but now that you've read this, I'll venture a bet you notice it the next time you're out to eat.

2) "The park remains open..."

In the pantheon of experience designers, where do you put Walt Disney? His inarguable commitment to people, setting, and process may make him the best ever. So it's no surprise Disney takes the details of language seriously.

So much so, you've maybe heard one of their smartest touches while visiting their parks. If you've ever caught yourself in a longer-than-expected queue late in the day, you may have asked a Cast Member "when do the parks close?"

Cast Members (the hospitality-driven employees that run Disney's parks) are continuously looking for ways to create positivity and spark magic for their guests. So as opposed to responding to the aforementioned question with "we close at 8:00", the Cast Member will respond with something to the tune of "the park remains open till 8:00, then we reopen for even more fun tomorrow morning at 9:00 - hope you can join us then!"

When one speaks of closures, they hint at finality, the end, expiration - it's a negative affect to wrap what's hopefully been a spectacular experience. Words like open and reopen shift and reframe the negative, now conjuring images of beginnings, starts, and the expectation of goodness to come. For many managers and companies, this level of detailed scripting would seem overly exacting and trite.

Which is precisely what makes Disney, Disney.

3) "Were you able to give feedback..."

I'm certainly biased, because at Docent Health I'm surrounded by some of the sharpest experience designers in healthcare. But this is another excellent example of their genius at work.

A network of hospitals was working with Docent to garner patient feedback after a procedure. Healthcare, already infamous for it's surveying struggles, is continually looking for new avenues to garner valuable patient insights.

In one of Docent Health's programs, outbound calls were designed as a new post-discharge journey component. Compliant with the many healthcare regulations, Docent navigated the waters to begin steering patients to a feedback page where they could provide comments. The only problem? Many didn't take the opportunity. They couldn't think what to share or why their feedback might be of value.

Then, one of Docent's operational superstars, Ashley Pritchett, suggested a superb tweak to the scripting. After inquiring about their experience, whether positive or negative, she'd follow it with the simple question:"Often times, patients don’t have a chance to share their comments while in the hospital - were you able to give feedback when you were here?"

There are a few subtle cues in that question. First, a simple truth that it can be tough to give feedback (positive or negative), when you're right in the middle of a hospital experience. There are comment cards in the hospital setting, but who among us are prepared in that moment to fill one out? As you might expect, very few.

Second, by placing the question back in the hospital setting with "when you were here" - it places the patient in that headspace. They may think of their care team, the hospital's cleanliness, or a memory of their physician. All that matters is that wheels are turning, and that many patients are just like you. They didn't get to share their experience, but now they can, and maybe you'd like to share yours too.

As opposed to simply saying "well, here's a link where you can share your thoughts," that fantastic piece of scripting design boosted monthly patient feedback by over 200%. If that's not evidence of the power of language, I don't know what is.

Personally and professionally, I can't help but listen to these verbal nuances. They hold such power, and yet, are so often overlooked. Now that you're thinking about it, I bet you have examples coming to mind too (perhaps both good and bad). Feel free to share them in the comments, as I am always interested in the details that leave a lasting impression on other people!