A few months ago, I wrote a blog about words that kill customer service. Words like “unfortunately” or “of course” and “obviously” immediately undermined the attempt to give good customer service. I am now returning to that idea with some more words and phrases. In many ways, the words and phrases by themselves are not an issue. If your organisation has a good customer service reputation and culture, then it can overcome the poor choice of words in a customer service letter or conversation. However, these words and phrases often betray a poor customer service culture.
The words and phrases may also show staff that are disengaged or unable to own a problem. They lack the resources or trust of senior managers to be able to solve a customer’s problem or complaint. As a result, they rely upon language that is defensive and ultimately destructive of a good relationship.
Always remember that even bad news can be delivered well. Here are more words and phrases that kill good customer service.
The first item is a phrase: “I am sorry I couldn’t be more helpful”. When you use this, you show, implicitly, that you could be more helpful. Instead, the second half of your statement will indicate the reasons why you either could not, or would not help the customer. In that sense, you are telling the customer you cannot own the problem and resolve their issue. One way to do it. “I cannot solve your problem/complaint/issue.”
The next item is the word “But”. As others have pointed out on the web, this word is simply a transition in a sentence to tell you what is not going to happen. It is setting up the negative point even if the first part is positive. “I would help you, BUT….” “I would refund you the money, BUT…” “You could complain, BUT…”
The third item is the “As you know”. In many ways, this is like the word “but” because it is setting up a negative expectation. The phrase puts the person in their place and defends the writer. “As you know, we are unable to give you a refund.”
The fourth item is “I am afraid”. We are not terrified of people nor are we terrified of situations. Instead, the phrase is defensive used to excuse and not explain. “I am afraid we cannot refund your money.”
So, what is to be done?
In each of these items, there is an opportunity to turn the situation around. If you are going to give someone bad news or news that they will not like, it is better to tell them that clearly and directly. One does not have to be brutal, rather one as to be clear and to the point. Here is an example of how it is done poorly and then I provide a positive approach to the issue. How you frame the response will go a long way towards how the customer will receive it.
I refer to your recent request for a bucket. Unfortunately, it did not meet the criteria therefore, I am afraid we cannot provide and service a bucket in your home. Sorry I couldn’t be more positive but our lack of resources leaves us no leeway.
Thank you for your request or a bucket. We cannot give you one because your request did not meet the criteria for giving you one and we are running low on buckets. When more buckets become available, we will reassess your request. Please be aware that you still may not be eligible for a bucket. You may be eligible for our bin service, which you can find here. If I can be help you with anything else, please contact me directly.
One thing to consider as a customer when you receive poor customer service is that the customer service inside the company is likely to be as poor or worse. Good customer service inside the company is reflected in the customer service outside of it. Therefore, the language you use with your colleagues, your “internal customers” will also show whether you have a good customer service culture within the organisation. Therefore, the next time someone says “unfortunately” in a meeting, you may have to ask yourself whether you are getting good customer service.
Remember the language you use reflects you as a person and your organisation. You owe it to yourself and your company to frame your approach positively an avoid words that kill customer service.
- Citigroup to use smartest computer ever built to improve customer service (telegraph.co.uk)
- Think, think, think about improving customer service (customerthink.com)