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6 Odd Language Considerations That Influence Customer Relationships

Listen to the audio version. 👆


We use language to identify people, share stories, and build connections.

The hard part is that the intention behind your language isn’t universal. Everyone brings their own culture, experiences, and definitions to terms.

Because language is wildly nuanced and contextual, it's easy for miscommunication with customers to happen. But when used thoughtfully, you can use language to positively drive customer relationships.

Factors that affect language interpretation:

Age of the person using it

The gender identity of the person speaking

Age of the person on the receiving end

The gender identity of the person receiving communication

Culture of either party

Experiences of the receiver

Geographic location

Where it’s said (in-person, email, text, etc)

Type of establishment (such as a bank or restaurant)

Context of the conversation

Power balance

General expectations

As we dive into different parts of language, keep in mind the above factors that could influence your language choices.


While you may be well-meaning in the language you use, you may find yourself on the receiving end of an upset customer who doesn’t share your meaning.


Let’s look at specific language areas and decide what works best for your business.

Terms of Endearment

For every person who uses or hears ‘Ma’am’ as a sign of respect, someone else bristles at the term.

Any word you use that isn’t the person’s name risks creating unintended friction in the customer relationship.

🎥 Let’s look at an example: “Sweetie”

Scenario 1: A bank manager in New York City handing a customer their money saying, “Here’s your $200, sweetie.” 🥴

Scenario 2: At a local restaurant in the south, an older woman brings you food using recipes that have been in her family for generations and says, “Here’s your food, sweetie. I hope you like it!” 😊

While neither scenario may be uncomfortable for some people, scenario two will likely be given grace based on the geographical location, the person saying it, and local culture.

For some people, terms of endearment can feel like an attempt to create a false sense of familiarity. They can also feel fake or passive-aggressive. These feelings create distrust, hurting your relationship with your clients.


Understand who your ideal client is, whether any terms you use may not sit well with them, and decide whether that’s something you want to adjust.

A gif from Frozen where Oaken says "What did you call me?"

What To Call Your Collective 'Customers'

The term 'customer' refers to a pretty straightforward relationship: a person gives you money, and you provide a product or service.

It’s a very transactional term.

But what if you offer more?

Then the term customer could cheapen the experience that you provide.

Or, if you use the word guest and run a store like Dollar General, you might be setting too high expectations, creating a poor customer experience.





formal, professional

Retail stores, banks, airlines


hospitality or service-oriented

Law firms, consulting firms, design agencies


functional or technical

Software companies, app developers, tech startups


sense of belonging or community

Gyms, clubs, museums


recurring or ongoing

Magazine publishers, streaming services, software companies


financial support or sponsorship

Non-profit organizations, arts organizations, museums


What word you use to refer to your customers can create expectations. Be thoughtful about how you refer to them to manage or elevate expectations.


You don’t have to use any of the terms above. You can create something unique for your business and customers.

Example: Lady Gaga is known for calling her fans "Little Monsters." The term was coined during her early career and has since become a term of endearment for her fans. The name means that everyone is different and unique, just like monsters.

Cursing, Jokes, and Emojis

What’s considered professional language is subjective.

If you polled 100 people, they’d all have different answers.

Knowing you can’t make everyone happy, you’ll have to define it for yourself. Take into consideration the image you want to project and how clients may interpret your choice.

To Curse or Not To Curse - That Is The Question

I'll share with you the same rules I plan to share with my son once he reaches the age where cursing seems cool.

  1. Never curse at someone

  2. Never curse as a way to demean or hurt others

  3. Know your audience

  4. Timing is everything

  5. Use it to be funny more often than not

  6. For a bigger impact, use sparingly

  7. Believe it or not, a creative non-curse can be far more effective than a regular curse word

These are just my rules. Feel free to add or take away based on what works best for you.

Is cursing something you allow in your business communications?

  • 0%Damn right, I do!

  • 0%Sometimes, when a situation calls for it.

  • 0%I use minced oaths instead (Darn it!)

  • 0%Never.

It’s A Laughing Matter

I grew up in the Marine Corps when dead baby jokes were a big hit. Needless to say, I now have a dark sense of humor, and most people wouldn't appreciate it.

Jokes, like cursing, are another area where you have to tread lightly.


Slang and language, in general, are constantly evolving.

Be aware of who you’re speaking to when using words that would be considered slang.

A good reminder is that when you’re working with people from different generations or cultures, there’s a higher likelihood of certain words having different meanings.


Emojis can be a great way to create visual interest, create a more personal message, and clarify the tone of a message.

However, you’ll want to be thoughtful about how many and what they may mean for others.

They should clarify, not add confusion.


Adobe put out a fun emoji trend study in 2022 that's oddly fun to read.


Language is nuanced and can be misinterpreted. It can also be used to deepen relationships, creating more customer loyalty.


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