October 18, 2003
Two years ago I heard George Walther speak at a conference on the importance of the words you use and the message they convey. He teaches “Power Talking” techniques – using positive words and phrases to communicate more effectively.
The simple example that stuck with me was his suggestion to replace “I’ll have to…” with “I’ll be glad to…” in all your phone conversations. Just changing the phrase transforms the task from a burden to a pleasure in the mind of the speaker as well as the listener.
I shared some of Walther’s ideas with our customer service team and gave them the free copy of Walther’s book that I got at the conference. And then I forgot about it. Until I saw the sign.
Newly hung from the menu board in the very cool, very popular taco joint around the corner from our office was a red plastic sign with white letters. It looked like a thousand other signs that start “Warning!” or “Notice!” or “No Entry”. Only this one read:
To receive complimentary chips, a minimum purchase of $5.75 is required.
Standing at the counter below the sign making a $6.25 purchase I felt a little guilty. The very pleasant cashier offered a basket of their fantastic homemade chips, just like they’ve done on every visit I’ve made. But this time it didn’t seem as nice.
And then I thought of Walther and his “Power Talking.” This little sign, with its very reasonable message and small number of words, was talking to me.
The sign was saying that the chips aren’t a freebie, but rather a privilege for qualified customers – and there are requirements for qualification.
The sign was saying that the owner was annoyed with people who came in and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu just to get the free chips and to load up at the fresh salsa bar.
The sign was saying that if I was feeling like a $4 burrito instead of a $6.25 salad then I was not a qualifying customer. I might even be one of those college students (in our university town) who lives on free samples and condiment bars.
That’s a lot for a little sign, and probably a lot more than the writer intended.
What would it be saying if it read:
Free chips with $5.75 purchase!
It would be saying that chips are a free bonus with a minimum purchase.
It would be saying that this is a cool place – because free chips are associated with full-service Mexican restaurants, not order-at-the-counter taco joints like this.
It would be saying that while I might only want the $4 burrito I could order a cup of soup or a side and get free chips, too – what a deal!
As it is, I haven’t had chips since the sign went up. I find myself at the burrito joint around the other corner more often. They don’t have chips at all, but they’re always happy to see me, even though I keep ordering the $2.95 salad.
And I ordered another copy of Walther’s book. I’m worried that my words might be saying more than I intended, too.
Update: December 22, 2004
Today I noticed a new sign that reads "Complimentary chips with $5.95 purchase."