Lessons from retail: avoid jargon

While I’m between full-time employers, I’m working a part-time job in big-box retail this holiday season to earn a little Christmas cash. I’m also learning some value brand lessons, including this one:

Avoid the jargon – Every industry – and brand – has its own jargon. When used with people in the know, it speeds communication and delivery of the brand promise. When used with a new employee, however, it can create confusion and, in extreme cases, brand disconnect.

In my big-box retail job, I’m often asked to replenish products on the retail floor. The manager once asked me to replenish the “KCK” which, only when I asked, did I learn was the “Kohl’s Cares For Kids” stuffed Dr. Seuss figures (100 percent of the proceeds goes to children’s charities!). When I picked up the hangers at the POS (“point of sale”), I was asked “are you the somethingsomething 27″ which is a sort of second-in-command manager on the shift (I said I didn’t know, but I didn’t think so). And I’ve been asked to “fill or kill” “towers and tables” which means to replenish or remove the specialty sale displays that we put in the ailes for seasonal merchandise.

In each case, I had to ask for further explanation. When I thought I knew the answer, but realized I didn’t, I had to guess. Imagine for a minute that the employee wasn’t as willing to take risks or ask questions as am I. Would the use of jargon hinder or help the situation? Would the employee be able to quickly and efficiently demonstrate the brand in the presence of employees?

I’m guessing it’s going to hurt communication and, potentially, the brand experience because of a delayed or – in the worst case – incorrect response by the employee.

Brand happens, and by taking a few extra seconds to use everyday language when engaging new employees, you can speed comprehension and let employees get on to the task of creating a great experience for your customers.

Are there terms and phrases that mean only something to you as an insider? If so, how to you welcome in new employees and arm them with the tools to embrace your brand?

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