Have you ever traveled to a destination where you don’t know the language? A place where the culture is utterly unlike your own? Where every spoken word is elusive and where a simple gesture – a wave, for example – may mean something unintended. 

If so, you had to develop strategies for successful communication. Maybe you used a language dictionary, elevated your speaking volume or made your body language more animated. Or maybe you drew crude caricatures on paper or in the dirt to convey your basic needs. All of these methods, and others, are common ways to get your point across. And frankly, they are part of what makes world travel so much fun.

But what if you are in one of these places and you have an emergency? What if you don’t have the luxury of time to play these communication games? In this dire moment, what do you need more than anything? You need a translator! A helpful local who speaks both languages fluently and can navigate your plight with ease.

The Local Guide

In your run specialty store, you are this helpful local. You speak the strange language of running retail (you know how to actually say plantar fasciitis), and you know the ins and outs of the running culture. You have multiple opportunities each day to fulfill this role. To take entering customers under your wing and ensure them that you’ve got them. But the big question is, are you making it easy for them to get got?

For as long as run specialty has been a thing, you, as a shoe fitter, have been the knowledge holders. You maintain a deep working knowledge about all things related to, among other things, footwear. 

Words and terms like midsole and vamp, durometer and drop, aptly roll off your tongue. You incorporate terms like heel counter, last, overlay and upper into your daily parlance and don’t miss a beat.

Talking the Talk

But make no mistake, these terms are only familiar to you. Very few customers truly know what any of these specialized words mean. So if you readily throw this language around, you are likely leaving your customers in the dust. 

And worse still, customers may also feel like they should know what you’re talking about, which makes them feel further left out. Neither reflects your intentions or proves to the customer that you’ve got them.

This tendency applies to anatomy and biomechanics, too. Your definition of pronation, for example, is likely different from your customer’s understanding of it. You know this is true because customers often think a mobile arch is something innately problematic and undesirable — which, of course, is a hasty generalization exploited by blogs and magazines. Certainly not a scientific rule.  

You and your staff will benefit from checking how you collectively use language, then looking for ways to simplify the jargon being taken for granted. Big words don’t make you smarter. And they definitely aren’t proof you know your stuff. Big words or unfamiliar concepts, generally speaking, simply make you hard to understand. Which sorta negates any claim to be customer-centric, doesn’t it? 

Here are five areas where you can ensure your language does not exclude your customers:

1. Pronation and Supination

Both of these terms refer to degrees of flexibility. A foot that’s over-pronating could just as easily be deemed “more flexible.” Same goes for a foot that’s under-pronating. It’s “less flexible.” The concept of flexibility is less likely to be judgmentally loaded or misunderstood. 

2. Visual Foot Pathology

Calling a medial bump on the first MPJ a “bunion” is risky. That simple word, though 100 percent accurate, may be enough to trigger for the customer a self-conscious, fearful, or embarrassing response. Instead, simply call it a “bump” and find out if it’s problematic. Sure, you know what it is, but you’re keeping things neutral and less “diagnosed.” This strategy can be applied to most of the visual foot conditions we come across. 

3. Drop

Consider describing what you mean by “drop” rather than assuming the customer knows what it is. A statement like, “In this shoe, your heel is six millimeters higher than your toes,” leaves very little room for misunderstanding, and communicates what you mean by drop in the first place. 

4. Durometer

Reserve this word for your run specialty colleagues only. A word like “hardness” or “durability” likely communicates what you’re trying to say and does so in a way your customer will better understand.

5. Acronyms

MPJ, ITBS, ROM and the like can all be renamed in simpler terms. Basic synonyms such as the toe joint, the outside of your thigh, how bendy that body part is, yadda yadda, all eliminate the possibility of taking over your customer’s head.

Translating Shoe Speak

Surely you can come up with more examples of where you can translate local language into that of the customer. Challenge your team to make simplification one of their goals.  

 And please — don’t misread this message. Simplifying is not about knowing less. If anything, being a good translator requires you to know more. It’s much easier to explain a concept when you’ve achieved a certain level of expertise than it is trying to do so without.

Go back to the fundamentals of what makes you so attractive to customers in the first place — your care and concern for them. 

Be the helpful local they need and make sure to translate their experience into the language they best understand — THEIRS.