Your Command of the English Language

Memo to Telephone Service Reps
Sam Carpenter, revised March 26, 2014, and again on 4/27/2017

We are on a quest: to improve our personal and collective command of the written and spoken word. As with just about everything else that makes Centratel special, this has to do with details, creating systems and simply paying attention to what we are doing…and double-checking our work.

It’s my job to continuously contemplate our strengths and weaknesses as a company. Clearly, considering the services we provide, our overall use of the English language must be exemplary: What we say, and how we say it has a tremendous impact on the satisfaction of our clients and ultimately the success of our business. In our culture, the spoken word is often not spoken very well… and, the written word is not often written very well. I think it has to do with deficiencies in our educational system – and what we expect from our children as students — as well as our reliance on TV and internet devices which has led to our general negligence of reading. I am especially aware of this as my father was a high school English teacher. Dad spent a lot of time harping about the school system’s lack of emphasis on the fundamentals…and, my mother was an author….

Before continuing, I will say that my use of the language isn’t perfect. So, I will qualify all this by saying “I find myself the leader here and it’s my job to address a problem, even though part of the problem is mine.”

So, finally, let’s get serious about this English language business. Here are some points:

  • Your progression up through the ranks of Centratel will be very much related to your command of the English language. The company is growing and in a couple of years it will be much larger than it is now. You have a great opportunity to get ahead by perfecting your speech and writing skills (and, to boot, your above-average expertise will help you in all other areas of your life).
  • Do not underestimate the negative impact of grammatical sloppiness or poor sentence structure. How does one measure the business lost due to the customer perception that we either don’t care, or don’t have intelligence? The very fact that we can’t measure the losses means that we tend to underestimate the damage and it’s my guess that when we’re not speaking and writing well the losses are more than what we might imagine. Remember that people often draw negative conclusions quickly, and they draw them on very limited information such as the brief email you send or the few words that you speak. In our telephone answering service business, it’s simple: negative judgments lead to the loss of accounts.
  • At this point, I know of five people within admin who range from “good” to “excellent” as editors. These people are Linda, Andi, Cheryl, Shelley, Sam K. and me. From this point forward and within this context, refer to each of us as “editors.” If anyone else feels they are especially strong in this area, talk to me and maybe we can add you to the group. The more the better.
  • For the immediate future, and maybe beyond, all written correspondence to clients and vendors, both hard-copy and email, are to be circulated through one of the five editors. Send your letter/note to one of us via email or hard-copy. We will make necessary changes and explain them to you. This is to ensure customers/vendors/associates are getting great written work and that you are having a learning experience.
  • We have established a bank of “core” letters and memos that you should use for routine correspondence. They are stored as read-only on the “O” drive. Use them to build your letter or memo but you must copy your modified text to your own desktop or another file in order to be able to use them. Be careful with your modifications as you add and delete to customize your letter or memo. We have put much time and thought into producing these basically flawless templates for your correspondence so please craft your memo or letter with the same attention. Andi is in charge of maintaining and expanding the available letters and memos. The letters are in three files on the O drive:
    • Sales letters
    • NAS letters
    • Admin letters
  • If you are in a bind and must send an email out immediately, do so but be sure to run the message through an editor immediately afterwards. Obviously, this would be for the “learning experience” benefit.
  • Make dictionary.com and thesaurus.com your best friends. As a test run, look up the word “germane”. See what it means in the dictionary mode. Find other similar words in the thesaurus. Have fun with this! Increase your vocabulary. You will have a larger impact on the people around you: they will respect you more, you will respect yourself more and you will get more of what you want.
  • Do not feel intimidated by all this. You know if you are weak in this area. Join with me in making the first steps to improving. Swallow the fact that this kind of improvement takes time but it can’t happen if you never start. The harder you work, the faster you will improve. As you become more proficient, you will find a confidence and pride you didn’t know was possible. It’s really a rare opportunity.
  • As you humble yourself for this new learning endeavor remember that Stephen King has an editor.
  • Do not be annoyed if one of our editors corrects your internal messages without your prior request. It’s the fastest way to improvement.
  • Use your spell-check and check your spell-check (did you replace your misspelling with the correct alternative?). Your spell-check should be in auto mode which means you can’t send an email without the system first checking your work.
  • Be concise! Think in terms of how you speak and then put it down on paper. Be brief. Remember that using large words when you are unsure of their meaning is not impressing anyone and could, in fact, tag you as insincere. Once again: you rarely can go wrong by choosing simplicity.
  • Proof-read your work. ALWAYS proof read your work.
  • The written word: When you have completed your work, review it for comprehension. Does your message make sense? Should a sentence be rearranged? Is the information in the right logical order of presentation? Have you repeated yourself? Will it make sense to the person on the receiving end? What about the basic grammar and spelling errors that most people make (do you know when to use “they’re” and “their”? What about “to” and “too”?) Have you included all the facts? Is your written word logical and simple?
  • The spoken word: be prepared for help in this area too. We’ll keep it light and we don’t want you to be afraid to speak.
  • When speaking, watch the “ummms” and the “yeahs” and the “yaknows.” Get to the point, don’t beat around the bush. Stick to the subject.
  • Do you have problems or questions or are you feeling insecure about this? Talk one-on-one with an editor! This can be a sensitive area and we want you all to know that this is just business and not a commentary on your education or your intelligence. “It’s just details” and has everything to do with keeping us, both collectively and as individuals, at the uppermost ranks of quality. Remember that our goal is simple: to be the best answering service in the United States.