Words that kill customer service

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When dealing with customers, the language you use can mean the difference between a satisfied customer and a lost customer.  In particular, when trying to recover a customer, such as following a complaint, it is important to avoid these words.  Two of the words to avoid are “unfortunately” and “obviously”.  Both of these words signify an organisation that is not thinking about its customers or what they are saying.

What do I mean by that?

If you are a customer you do not want to have someone describe your situation as one created by fortune.  If your car is crushed by a falling tree, that is unfortunate. If you did not get the job, that is not a question of fortune. The organisation made a decision; they did not flip a coin.  Or, maybe they did.  Using the word “unfortunate” suggests that somehow it is out of the organisation’s control and not something they are ultimately responsible for doing.  Such language suggests an organisation that does not encourage people to take responsibility and does not reward people for taking responsibility. Instead, it suggests an organisation that seeks to avoid blame and responsibility.  Then again, it could just be an “unfortunate” choice of words.

One has to consider if the managers are consciously using these words or if they have imbued the culture of the organisation.  In that regard, one needs to have a greater attention to the standard form letters. Yet, that is one area that is likely to be overlooked and simply accepted as being fixed in place. Yet, a well written letter or email can do wonders for helping a customer or winning back their custom.

The second word that kills customer service is not “unfortunate” as its use has a deliberate and intended meaning.  One should never tell a customer, especially one lodging a complaint, that something that the organisation is doing is obvious. If an organisation is “obviously” doing or going to do something, then there is no need to say that, it is, well, obvious.  For example, you would not want to tell a customer complaining about access to breastfeeding rooms would “obviously” be considered. Alternatively, if you say the process is obviously to consider feedback from users, then there is no need to say obvious.  Just say that it is going to consider the feedback.  Moreover, if you tell the customer, especially one who is complaining, that something is obvious, you may just irritate them more.  If it is obvious, why is not fixed? Or if it is obvious why are you telling me it is obvious?

In the end, the lesson is that organisations need to consider the language they use. At the same time, the managers have to think about what language they use with customer and staff.  Do you have an approachable style that is suitable to the topic? Does it set the right tone?  When you have bad news to tell someone, there is no sense making it worse with the tone or style of your letter.  In many cases, your letter could be the last interaction you have with that customer and it may decide whether you hold on to them or lose them.

It is so obvious that it may be unfortunate to overlook it.

P.S. I would be interested in any words you think also kill customer service.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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2 Responses to Words that kill customer service

  1. azmil syahmi says:

    Great insight. Come to think of it I never thought that these two words can make situation worse. I train my staff to avoid this words. The famous one that will sertainly make people blow up will be “Ïts our policy”


    • lawrence serewicz says:

      Thanks for the comment. In some cases, such words may fit. However, they are often used with the wrong intent or understanding.


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