The Downside of Doublespeak

Image Source. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Image Source. Licensed under Creative Commons.

When a bill from Cox Communications seemed suspiciously steep, I called the customer service number to inquire about it. The customer service rep explained that the high monthly charges were due to a recent "rate adjustment." Isn't it strange how companies always "adjust" rates upwards and never downwards? The Cox representative had obviously been trained to say "rate adjustment" instead of "bill increase" or "fee hike." After all, it's difficult for customers to complain about something as neutral as an "adjustment."

The marketplace is always developing new euphemisms. Used car dealers these days position their wares as "pre-owned vehicles." In the tech world, Facebook has invented the term "frictionless sharing" as a way of emphasizing the platform's benefits while minimizing privacy concerns.

But if these terms have a purpose, they also have a downside. Customers do eventually catch on to the doublespeak, and it erodes trust in the businesses. Trust doesn't matter that much to cable companies, gargantuan social networking sites, or used car salesmen. Customers often don't have a choice but to deal with them.

But misleading language is risky for service professionals and B2B providers, because developing trust is an essential part of their sales process. The language they use must be straightforward enough to create confidence.