Just after we had ordered lunch at Chili's our server said: "Your ticket time is 15 to 20 minutes." I commented to my wife that this was a very bizarre thing to say.
While I understood he was saying that it would take 15 to 20 minutes for our order to reach the table, it still did not make sense why he was using "kitchen" language to talk to us diners.
It would have been clearer had he said: "It will take 15 to 20 minutes for the chef to prepare your meal."
The ease with which he said "ticket time" made me wonder how often leaders use internal language to speak with external customers.
We need to address this significant issue as it reveals the locus of thinking. Customer-oriented thinking uses the language of the customer. Navel-gazing language, self-absorption, uses the inward code no matter whom you are speaking with.
An example of customer-oriented language comes from Jumeirah, whose tagline is "Stay Different".
This relates to the customer's experience, not the action of the hotel.
In all of my stays with Jumeirah, staff talk to me as a customer, rather than using back-of-house "hotel" language.
A litmus test is to parse your communication for self-focused words such as "I", "we", "our" and your company name (which functions much like "we"), as well as for customer-focused words such as "you" and "your".
Then calculate the ratio that indicates whether your customers are likely to perceive you as genuinely focused on them.
Language is an indicator of the type of action that will come. The words you use and how you use them tell your customers where your focus is. If you speak with an internal slant, then you will act with it as well.
Which is what happened for us at Chili's. The waiter's language revealed the service we would receive.
He was more interested in the business rather than doing the work of the business - serving the customers.
A tweet from Dave McClure (@davemcclure) highlights this point. "Great entrepreneurs are passionate about customers, not entrepreneurship," he said.
Every employee and leader needs to be passionate about the customer rather than obsessing about the internal business.
Practical examples of this can be found in any industry or functional area.
If you listen to leaders talk you will hear them talking about the science of their work. Yet the consumer is not aware of or even thinking about this. I was in a workshop this past week with leaders who were talking about what consumers need, yet in their whole careers they had never spoken with a customer.
Once they did later in the workshop, it became apparent that the consumer was not at all interested in what the leader thought and was communicating to them.
By way of observation, leaders who mistake activity in the cocoon of their trade for doing the business is one of the elements that stand in the way of organisational performance.
Leaders need to pause, listen and observe to learn what is happening in their business.
Do you use customer or business language?
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center