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What Not to Say: Words that Cost You Customers

help me

Everyone has a pet peeve about customer experience. Persistent pop-ups that ask annoyingly, "Need help?" Websites with music in their hearts.

Videos that start automatically. Hard to find contact information. Contact centers that make you wait on hold … for what seems like forever. Intricate, thickly branched phone trees. Glitchy self-service kiosks.

It's a multichannel mess, more or less.

But nothing is more maddening — or more contrary to the whole philosophy of CXM — than scripted responses that lack even trace amounts of empathy, understanding or compassion. As customer experience researcher, innovator and entrepreneur John A. Goodman so clearly articulates, some things are better left unsaid.

What else would you expect to hear from the co-author of "Shut Your Mouth! Words and Phrases to Avoid in a Customer-Focused Service Environment"?

More than an Inconvenience

John A. Goodman

Goodman has been grappling with the whole customer experience thing long before CXM was a buzzword. As co-author of a 1970’s breakthrough study of consumer complaint behavior and customer service for the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, he's regarded as a pioneer in the customer experience industry. And he literally “wrote the book” on Strategic Customer Experience.

He's the founder of TARP Worldwide, a Rosslyn, Va.-based customer experience improvement firm that just recently rebranded as CX Act. He worked there for 40 years before leaving to become vice chairman of Alexandria, Va.-based Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, a company that tries to help Fortune 500 companies get a better return on their investments in customer experience.

Last year, he had an unpleasant experience on his "least favorite airline." It was summer, and thunderstorms were roaring across the East Coast. "While in flight, the plane was diverted to a city that was not my destination," he recalled. It landed at midnight.

Goodman, of course, wasn't happy. But he's realizes no one controls the weather — and even understood the airline had no responsibility to provide him a hotel for the night.

But what bothered him was what the airline representatives said when he got off the flight. "We're sorry for the inconvenience."

"Being dumped in a strange city at midnight is not an inconvenience," he said. "It's a disaster."

Couldn't the airline have offered a little TLC, he wondered — or at least a little sympathy? 

Connecting with Customers

To provide the best customer experiences, you have to push beyond the company policies and procedures. You have to look beyond what is legally required. And you have to empower your employees to do more than follow scripts. 

The key to customer success is in the heart. 

"We're all customers," he continued. "We've all been driven nuts by absolutely insensitive things service staff say. But after getting angry in our private lives, we still allow or sometimes even mandate very similar things in our service management roles."

Goodman discussed the issue with TARP Worldwide CEO Crystal Collier. And the two of them came up with the What Not to Say Guide (registration required). A year later, it's as relevant as ever. So we thought it was appropriate to share some of the words and phrases you should erase from your company's vocabulary.

Don't Say It!

There are a lot of words that can rob the pleasure from a customer experience. But it's not only the words — it's the delivery, including the tone, and the situation in which they are being offered. Train customer-facing employees to be respectful, empathetic, honest and engaged. And encourage them to use the following phrases, which are commonly used in-person, on the phone and online, with caution.

  • Sorry for the inconvenience: A two-minute wait for service can justifiably be termed an inconvenience. But a cancelled flight or a missed service appointment? Nope. Those are far more — and characterizing the experience as an inconvenience shows a lack of respect for the customer.
  • It's our policy: Using this phrase shows you are failing to look at the situation from the customer's point of view — and suggests that the "rules" are more important than the person with the problem.
  • That could not have happened: Really? But it did. You don't earn customer loyalty by calling someone a liar.
  • May I put you on hold for just a moment?: No. It's rarely that short. So be honest. Tell the customer if she should expect a three or four minute wait — or more. And offer an option to waiting, like a return call.
  • You can get faster service by going to our website: Look at this from the customer's point of view. He has already called you. Now you want him to hang up and navigate to your website? And do you really think anyone needs to be told you have a website? The customer opted for the phone for a reason.
  • Is there anything else I can help you with?: Do not, repeat, do not ask if you can help with something else unless you have resolved the customer's initial problem. As Goodman notes, you need to give employees flexibility about when to use the phrase — and refrain from saying it when it will do nothing but inflame an already heated situation.
  • I can't: Why? To the customer, saying "I can't" is like simply saying "no" or "I don't care enough to help you." Better to say something like, "I'm limited in my ability to do what you are asking, but I can offer three alternatives."

What words make you want to walk away from a business or brand? Share them in the comments below — or tweet them to Goodman at @jgoodman888.

Title image by Benoit Daoust / Shutterstock.

 
 
 
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