You’ve probably heard the saying, “Life is a series of roles.” What does that mean exactly? It means we act and speak in different ways when we face different situations. We speak one way to our family and another way to our friends and still another way to our coworkers. We speak in yet another way to customers and it’s an important subject we’re going to look at.

There are customer service ramifications of eight commonly used words and sayings that we’ve designated as Killer Words. These eight phrases are normally used with good intentions, yet they are damaging to customer relationships. Let’s look at how we can avoid the Killer Words and see that it’s not how you perceive the phrases but how the recipient interprets them.

#1—Killer Words of Customer Service: “CALM DOWN.”

When a customer contacts you about a problem, they generally are not happy. So, it’s not a good idea to say something that might make them more unhappy. Let’s listen in on a customer phone call.

Jessica: Thanks for holding. L-Maxx support. This is Jessica.

Customer: Yeah, your company promised me delivery on Tuesday. It’s now Friday and it’s still not here. Do you have any idea what kind of problems you’re causing me?

Jessica: Ma’am, please: Calm down!

Customer: Calm down?!? Calm down??? Don’t tell me to calm down!!! Thanks for the advice, but if your company would have done what they promised, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation!

Did you see what happened here? Instead of handling the customer’s concern immediately, Jessica chose to change the subject. Rather than dealing with the complaint, she sidetracked it into telling the customer what to do, and all of a sudden it’s an argument. The customer went from upset to furious. This can be handled much better.

Jessica: Thanks for holding. L-Maxx support. This is Jessica.

Customer: Yeah, your company promised me delivery on Tuesday. It’s now Friday and it’s still not here. Do you have any idea what kind of problems you’re causing me?

Jessica: My apologies. That’s got to be very frustrating. If need be, we can overnight your order so it’s there Monday. Now please tell me exactly what happened and I will get to work on fixing this.

Customer: Yes OK. Thanks. …

That was much better. Jessica apologized and focused her efforts on solving the problem and that’s what the customer wanted in the first place. Telling a customer how to act is never a good idea.

  • REMEMBER—Asking a customer to calm down will come off as patronizing and actually have the opposite effect on the behavior.

#2—Killer Words of Customer Service: “CAN I BE HONEST WITH YOU?”

The phrase “can I be honest with you,” normally is used very innocently. Most people who say something like this aren’t really thinking through the ramifications and hidden messages. It’s almost “social noise.” Let’s listen in on another customer call.

Chris: Parts. This is Chris.

Customer: Yeah, Chris. This is Darius Jones. We spoke last week and you asked me to call today to arrange installation of the new pump for our hydraulic press.

Chris: Hello, Mr. Jones. Um, regarding your new pump, can I be honest with you?

Customer: No, I want you to lie to me. Yes, of course you can be honest with me!

If ever there was a useless saying, it’s the Killer Words “can I be honest with you?” The customer assumes that you’re always going to be honest with them. They expect that. There are several variations of these words that needs to be dropped as well, such as:

  • Let me be perfectly frank.
  • You want the truth, right?
  • Look, I’m going to level with you.
  • Can I be candid with you?

Asking if you can be honest with them buys you nothing and in most cases will reduce your credibility. Let’s watch this done a more effective way.

Chris: Parts. This is Chris.

Customer: Yeah, Chris. This is Darius Jones. We spoke last week and you asked me to call today to arrange installation of the new pump for our hydraulic press.

Chris: Hi, Mr. Jones, thanks for calling. We have your new pump in stock and we’re waiting on the wiring harness from our office in San Antonio. I’m expecting it tomorrow, so let’s go ahead and set up an installation time. How about Thursday?

See? There is no need to use the Killer Words “can I be honest with you?” These words are totally useless and, in fact, are a credibility buster.

  • REMEMBER—Avoid these Killer Words that question your own integrity.

#3 Killer Words of Customer Service—“NO PROBLEM.”

What could possibly be wrong with saying “No problem”? It looks like an OK phrase but, when we surveyed our customers, a surprisingly large number of people found “No problem” offensive. They felt “No problem” was a really big problem. Let’s find out why!

Jessica: Thanks for calling L-Maxx support. This is Jessica.

Customer: Hi, Jessica. This is Colleen Jenkins and I wanted to call and say that your company did a great job. My original shipment was late, but I just received the replacement phone that you shipped overnight. I wanted to call and thank you.

Jessica: No problem.

That was a very nice gesture on the part of the customer. All too often when you straighten out a problem there is no indication of thanks from the customer. They expected you to fix the problem and rightly so. Here was a case where the customer took the time to call back and thank you. Jessica’s response sounded like she just dismissed the customer. Not impressive. So, how should this have been handled?

Jessica: Thanks for calling L-Maxx support. This is Jessica.

Customer: Hi, Jessica. This is Colleen Jenkins and I wanted to call and say that your company did a great job. My original shipment was late, but I just received the replacement phone that you shipped overnight. I wanted to call and thank you.

Jessica: You’re certainly welcome, Ms. Jenkins. I’m delighted we could get the problem sorted out and thank you: We appreciate you calling to let us know.

When a customer thanks you, they deserve to hear “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure” or “happy to do it.” Those answers have been the gold standard for a long time. Telling a customer “no problem” is too informal. It’s dismissive. Why lose all that good will on the customer’s part at the last minute?

  • REMEMBER—“No problem” is not a substitute for “you’re welcome.” Avoid using those Killer Words.

#4 Killer Words of Customer Service—“OUR COMPUTERS ARE SLOW.”

Here is another saying that looks all right because it happens a lot. These Killer Words aren’t really about your computer system. They are actually about the habit of complaining about your company to the customer. When a customer calls, it’s important that they feel as though they are dealing with a top-notch, well-run organization. Why go out of your way to give the impression that your company has internal problems?

Customer: … OK then, which part number do you think I need to order?

Chris: I’ve been trying to get that for you, but our darn computers are really slow again today. Sorry about this. It happens all the time.

Why do some people feel the need to talk down about their company? If you were the customer, would this give you a feeling of confidence about doing business with them? Sure, every workplace occasionally has its drawbacks. Maybe you run out of stock on a popular item, or the temperature is too hot or too cold in the office, or perhaps a new company rule isn’t to your liking. But sharing negative details about your workplace with a customer serves no positive purpose. In many cases it leaves that customer with a negative feeling. Why do that? Let’s see it done in a more positive way.

Customer: … OK then: which part number do you think I need to order?

Chris: Certainly, sir. I’m working on that now and I apologize for the delay. Please bear with me while I work to locate that exact part number for you.

That’s more like it! There is no value in sharing negative information about your company.

  • REMEMBER—When something unexpected comes up that’s negative about your company, like a slow computer, rather than using Killer Words, work to shield your customer so their experience is as positive as possible.

#5 Killer Words of Customer Service—“WHAT’S YOUR NAME AGAIN?”

It happens to all of us: You get busy, you take a call and the person says their name, but it gets past you. They said it too fast, or maybe there was noise in the background. Perhaps they had an unfamiliar last name that you just didn’t catch. Sometime during the conversation, though, you will need that name. Asking the customer to say their name again suggests to them that you weren’t giving them your full attention and that is very frustrating.

Jessica: Thanks for calling L-Maxx support. This is Jessica.

Customer: Hi, Jessica. This is Darius Jones. I just received that promotional email and I would like to order a new charger for my phone.

Jessica: Sure! I can help you with that. Uh … what’s your name again?

Customer: It’s still Darius Jones.

Not catching someone’s name the first time happens to all of us. When it does, there is a much easier, less abrasive, more effective way to get that customer’s name. Let’s see it done right.

Customer: This is Darius Jones. I just received that promotional email and I would like to order a new charger for my phone.

Jessica: Sure! I can help you with that. I apologize. I know you just gave me your name and I missed it. My name is Jessica. And I’m speaking with … ?

Customer: Sure. This is Darius Jones.

Jessica: Great—thank you, Mr. Jones.

Much smoother, wasn’t it? Use this the next time you miss a customer’s name.

  • REMEMBER—Skip the Killer Words “what’s your name again” and use this method instead.
    1. Acknowledge their request (echo it back.)
    2. Apologize for not getting the name.
    3. Tell the truth about why you missed the name.
    4. Reintroduce yourself; request the name again using our fill-in-the-blank technique.

#6 Killer Words of Customer Service—“YES, BUT … .”

In the customer service world the word “but” is thought of as the “big eraser.” We’re labeling these as Killer Words because when your customer hears “yes, but” they can usually sense something negative is going to come next. Think about it. What do you sense when somebody says to you:

  • Yes we can do that, but … .
  • That outfit looks really nice on you, but … .
  • Yes, of course I love you, but … .

You know something is coming after the word “but,” and it usually is going to downgrade the positive statement they started with. We call “yes, but” a “two-stage no.” We want to tell the customer “yes” as much as possible; however, when there is a condition involved, that often changes the situation. Let’s look at an example.

Chris: Parts. This is Chris.

Customer: Hi. My company ordered 6 new monitors. It turns out that we only need 5. Can I ship one of these back to you for credit?

Chris: Yes, but there’s a $50 restocking fee.

As soon as the customer hears you say the word “but” they know there is bad news coming their way. If only he had a smoother method to get that information across. Every time we say “yes, but” we’re making excuses and we all know customers don’t like them. So we do need a buffer, that is, something nice or soft to say before we turn down the customer. “Yes, but” are not the right words. Let’s see this done better.

Chris: Parts. This is Chris.

Customer: Hi. My company ordered 6 new monitors. It turns out that we only need 5. Can I ship one of these back to you for credit?

Chris: You need to return one? Well, certainly, I’d be glad to assist you. Now there is a $50 restocking fee for returning that item. Or, if you’d like to exchange it for a different item, you’ll save that fee.

See the positive difference when you don’t use the “big eraser”?

  • REMEMBER—Work at learning to phrase your answers so they avoid using the Killer Words “yes, but.”

#7 Killer Words of Customer Service—“SORRY, THAT’S OUR POLICY.”

Most organizations have a series of rules, regulations and policies that dictate their operation in order to run efficiently. The idea is to provide the best possible service within the limits of these guidelines. Oftentimes the company hopes to have a one-size-fits-all policy, but what happens when a customer makes a reasonable request in a situation that doesn’t fit under a company policy? Let’s take a look.

Jessica: Sorry, sir, but it’s right there in the warranty. Take a look at paragraph 4. It says that unless all services are handled by our company the warranty becomes null and void.

Customer: Right, but I wasn’t in town. Isn’t there anything you can do for me?

Jessica: Sorry, that’s our policy.

Customer: But didn’t you hear me? I was at our lake house, which is 200 miles away from your approved service center.

Jessica: Sir, as I said, sorry, that’s our policy.

Customers realize every company needs rules so things run smoothly, but they also think every company needs to be willing to make special exceptions. In this case the customer was forced to make a decision because of a defective product. Can an exception be made to the company’s policy? Standing firm on a policy that might lose a customer can be dangerous. Let’s see another way to handle this.

Customer: … I was at our lake house, which is 200 miles away from your approved service center.

Jessica: Sir, your explanation makes sense to me. Let’s do this. I’d like to take this to my manager and explain your situation. I’ll get back with you later today, after I’ve spoken with her. What phone number can I use to reach you then?

Customer: Yes, thank you. I appreciate it.

That was much better! Instead of being unreasonable and confrontational, Jessica assured the customer that she would explain exactly what happened to see if an exception could be made. We call it “making a second effort.”

  • REMEMBER—It’s better to look for creative solutions to the customer’s problem rather than use Killer Words like “sorry, that’s our policy.” They can be harsh and confrontational. If the customer can be accommodated, rather than being disappointed, we’ve saved the day.

#8 Killer Words of Customer Service—“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.”

When we are speaking to someone face-to-face, we usually can tell when they don’t understand what we’re saying to them. We might see quizzical facial expressions or other body language. When we’re talking to people on the phone, we might sense a lack of understanding, but we need to rely on other things to do that, for example, their questions or maybe even a lack of questions.

When someone doesn’t understand, you have different options to try and clarify. You can explain again and again, using the same words, but if they didn’t understand the first time, chances are this won’t make it clear. You can try different wording to help them understand better. That might solve things, but what you don’t want to do is use the Killer Words “you don’t understand.” In fact, that puts the blame on them when the obligation is really yours to explain things better. Let’s look at an example.

Customer: My screen is totally frozen. I can’t get it to do anything!

Customer Service Agent: Let me see if I can help you by walking you through a fix. Before we get started, have you tried a hot restart?

Customer: What? You mean like pressing the escape key? Yeah, I’ve tried that.

Customer Service Agent: Ma’am, you don’t understand what I’m saying.

The words “you don’t understand” are insulting. You obviously know your products and services far better than the customer. Communicating clearly with others, though, who aren’t as familiar with them is an important customer service skill. It’s our obligation to do a better job of explaining.

We often can accomplish this by using different words. You may need to simplify your explanation to be effective. Let’s not insult the customer with the Killer Words “you don’t understand.”

Customer: … I can’t get it to do anything!

Customer Service Agent: Let me see if I can help you by walking you through a fix. Before we get started, have you tried a hot restart?

Customer: What? You mean like pressing the escape key? Yeah, I’ve tried that.

Customer Service Agent: OK. Well, let me walk you through the restart process. Now, at the same time, press the control button, the delete button and the F5 button. Hold those down for three seconds … .

That’s much better! This agent took responsibility for clearly communicating with the customer.

  • REMEMBER—Any time a customer doesn’t understand what you’re saying, it’s your obligation to do a better job of explaining. Rather than using Killer Words like “you don’t understand,” take the responsibility for presenting the information clearly.

KILLER WORDS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE

Key Points

  • Innocent sounding words can easily be misinterpreted by customers. Be aware and avoid the words and phrases that already have proven to be likely candidates for misinterpretation.
  • Always avoid these Killer Words of Customer Service:
    • Calm Down
    • Can I Be Honest With You?
    • No Problem
    • Our Computers Are Slow
    • What’s Your Name Again?
    • Yes, But …
    • Sorry, That’s Our Policy
    • You Don’t Understand

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