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Kate van der Borgh

Kate van der Borgh

Oi, Barclays. Have a word.

by | Business speak, Copy Chat, Copywriting

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I don't love calling my bank at the best of times. It usually means I've overspent again. But one recent call left me seething, all because of a single word...

The other day, I was in a bit of a flap. My niece’s birthday was coming up, and I’d left it VERY late to order the 3D Magic Maker she was expecting. And when I got a puzzling message from Amazon saying that for some unknown reason they couldn’t process my payment, I had to get on the phone to my bank – sharpish.

After the seemingly endless automated security questions, I was a bit stressed out. Even so, I was determined to be nice to the person at the end of the line when I finally got through (having worked in a call centre in my youth, I know how bloody awful it is to deal with stroppy customers). However, the man at the end of the line managed to wind me up in about a nanosecond, thanks to a single word.

So which word?

The guy on the end of the line immediately asked me the security questions I’d just answered. I thought it was kind of weird (and was a bit worried that I might somehow be knee-deep in a scam). So I told him that I’d already been through the questions. No, not in a stroppy way. In a puzzled way. At which point, he said:

‘I know, but I have to ask. So, if you could just co-operate.’

Co-operate? CO-OPERATE? Let me explain why, at this sensitive point in the conversation, this one word made me mad.

Words that resonate

Every word resonates, or chimes, with us in a certain way. For instance, the words ‘help’ and ‘assistance’ technically mean the same thing, but we choose different words depending on the context and the emotional effect we want to create. That’s why you won’t hear anyone stuck down a mine shaft calling: please, someone assist me!

And ‘co-operate’ has its own resonance. It makes me think of a policeman manhandling a greasy yob into the back of a squad car, asking them to co-operate. In other words, it makes me think of people who are behaving really badly, getting a telling off. But I was not behaving badly, and I really didn’t need telling off. So the word didn’t resonate very well with me.

My Big Day

Another example: a couple of years ago, my husband-to-be and I finally found our wedding venue. We were still in a froth of excitement, dreaming of canapes and champagne (gloriously unaware of the hideous minibus spreadsheet that was to come). So I was fizzing with excitement when I got a letter from the venue, confirming our booking. Well, I was – until I read the line:

‘We’re glad that you have chosen us for your function.’

FUNCTION? This was my BIG DAY! I’m not trussing myself up in twenty metres of tulle for a FUNCTION.

Joking aside, it did take the edge off. More importantly, it made me feel like the venue didn’t really see my wedding in the way I saw it – which surely wasn’t what they wanted me to feel.

Choose your words wisely

Think about how the words you choose might resonate with other people. Think about the images they evoke. Because when that word chimes, it will bring its baggage.

By the way, you’ll be glad to know the 3D Magic Maker arrived on time. And my niece didn’t offer her gratitude, or express her appreciation – she gave me a lovely ‘thank you’.

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