A few weeks back I was on a flight across the country and I had the pleasure of sitting all the way in the back row... you know... where they used to put the smokers. Ahhh, remember those days? One of the luxuries of sitting in the back is watching people enter and leave the restroom. Oh, and that lovely toilet smell.

But on this particular flight the bathroom was out of commission. The airline helpfully placed the following sign on the bathroom door:

Out of Order: INOP

I'm not sure who this sign was meant for, the staff or the customer? I don't speak Airline but I'm taking a wild guess that "INOP" is short term for "inoperative". Or maybe it stands for "International Nesting-Ground of Pancakes."

"DO NOT USE" is clear enough, but really, is this the way you want to talk to customers? Whatever happened to, "We're sorry, but the water-closet is temporarily out of order?" Or perhaps, please use the crapper in the front of the plane?" This sign might as well say, "Sit down, shut up and hold it in!"

When talking to your customers, you need to talk to them in the language they want to hear. That doesn't mean you have to change the message, only the words used to convey the message. A message does no good if the customer doesn't understand it or, worse, they find it offensive.

I'd like to say that most online companies get the language of their sales message right, but they don't. Even worse (and we tend to see this even more online) is the language used in generating error messages. Most error messages are written by tactless programmers, instead of the customer service team. Many are the equivalent of walking through a freshly mopped area and seeing a sign that reads "It's wet. You're walking in the wrong place!" As if the customer did something wrong.

The error messages can be just as important as the sales messages. No matter what you're saying to the customer you want to be polite, non-offensive and, yes, even helpful! Bathroom is INOP? How about "Customer service is FUBAR?"

Side Note: Someone write "Thank You--Northwest!" on the sign. Not sure if this was an unappreciative customer showing off their sarcastic skills, or a flight attendant that realized it was a poorly crafted message.

April 7, 2009

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Ah, but you're mistaken, dear man. Normal rules of playing nicely with others don't apply on North American airlines (or most European ones, for that matter). You pay for the privilege of being yelled at and spat upon. Don't the silly buggers know that CAPS LOCK means shouting?

Would love to hear a designer or brand specialist's take on Times New Roman as it applies to Northwest's brand systems.

0 points out of 10, do you reckon?

@ Lauren - ROTFL. Well, when you put it that way... !

I don't know when these companies would really understand about the value of their customer mean . They only think about their revenues

This is classic. As a frequent traveler, I find the airlines getting worse and worse, especially at communicating!
H Baldwin

LOL. See this a lot, had a similar sign on the coffee machine at work the other day.


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