5 Customer Service Phrases to Avoid (and What to Say Instead)

In May of 2018, Barbara Carroll ordered three cartons of toilet paper from Amazon. The order total: $88.17. The shipping charges? $7,455.

Carroll wasn’t overly concerned, as Amazon typically takes great care of its customers. But in this case, Carroll complained to Amazon six times and even wrote a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos. After every complaint, she received a form letter explaining a refund was impossible because the delivery arrived on time and undamaged. It wasn’t until Carroll notified a local television station (and the story went viral) that Amazon took action. Months later, she was finally reimbursed.

While this case is extreme, every company has its share of customer service flops. In some situations, the problem is no communication. In other cases, it’s inconsiderate attitudes.

Want to steer your team toward positivity? Here are five customer services phrases to avoid.

1. “No” (or) “I can’t help you with that.”

Even if a customer makes an impossible request, it’s your responsibility to care for them and to steer them toward a solution.

Alternatives to try:

“This feels like an issue which might be out of my control, but let me double check . . .”

“That’s not my area of expertise, but I want to connect you with someone who can help.”

2. “I don’t know” (or) “You need to check with someone else.”

If you can’t solve a problem, be as helpful as possible. Rather than abandoning someone mid-stream, work with them to find an answer.

Alternatives to try:

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

“I’m not sure, but I’d be happy to look into that.”

3. “Ok, calm down.”

When diffusing a tense situation, telling someone to calm down usually frustrates them more. Instead, communicate empathy and turn the focus from the problem to the solution.

Alternatives to try:

“I understand how this must have upset you, and I’ll get on it immediately.”

“That would frustrate me too.”

“I’m sorry for this inconvenience. Let me help you with that right away.”

4. “I don’t understand the issue.”

People who are upset find uncertainty even more frustrating. If you’re struggling to connect, clarify the issue or soften your request.

Alternatives to try:

“OK, so let me clarify…”

“What I’m hearing is [ISSUE], is that correct?

“If it’s not too much of a problem, I would ask you to be a bit more specific…”

5. “I’m going to put you on hold.”

Time is valuable, so don’t assume you can extend a service call without asking permission. If you do have someone hold, check back with a status update if they’ve waited longer than two minutes.

Alternatives to try:

“I understand your issue and if it’s ok, I’m going to ask you to hold on while I check on a solution.”

“The problem you’re describing is rather peculiar, so if you have a minute, I’d like to put you on hold while I check with my supervisor.”

“I’ll get right on it. If it’s ok, I’d like to look into this today and call back to you once I resolve this.”

Ultimately, customer service is not about the right words but the right attitudes. Remember, the biggest customer service frustration question is “why isn’t this as important to you as it is to me?” As you handle issues, address the person behind the problem. Communicate with compassion, empathy, and enthusiasm, and you will find your way through many sticky situations.

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True Empathy Can Win the Day

 

A farmer had a litter of puppies for sale. As he was driving the last nail into his advertising yard sign, he felt a tug at his overalls. “Mister,” said a boy at his feet, “I want to buy a puppy.”

“Well,” said the farmer, “These puppies come from fine parents and cost lots of money. How much do you have?”

The boy dropped his head momentarily, then drew several coins from his pocket. “I don’t have much, but is this enough to take a look?”

The farmer paused reluctantly but before he could answer three puppies rolled out of the doghouse. One tiny, awkward pup hobbled behind. The boy’s eyes lit up. “I want that one,” he exclaimed, pointing to the runt. The man shook his head solemnly. “Son, that puppy will never be able to run and play like the others.”

The boy rolled up his trousers to reveal a steel brace running down both sides of one leg. “I do want that puppy. I don’t run too well myself, and he’ll need someone who understands him.”

That day the boy won the puppy because he moved the farmer’s heart. Why? Because empathy impacts people. Researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions and to imagine how they might be thinking or feeling. Empathy is essential to human interactions because it allows us to connect in authentic ways and to offer helpful words, comfort, or assistance. Empathy is essential in every human interaction but is especially significant for those in customer service.

Empathy Begins with Real Listening

Would you like to be more successful in minimizing difficult situations or by helping customers overcome their hesitations as you’re trying to make a sale?

All empathy begins with real listening. As you listen with empathy, ask questions like:

  • “How is this situation affecting you?”
  • “Can you tell me more about _____?”
  • “What do you think would be your ideal outcome here?”

As a person processes, take care not to interrupt. While you may not be equipped to address their concerns, asking empathetic questions can shift your focus to listen more effectively, opening new lines of communication and diffusing tension so everyone can move forward.

Empathy involves reflective listening, using phrases that demonstrate your understanding. Phrases that show customers you are taking customers seriously might include:

  • “I can understand how frustrating it is when . . .”
  • “I see this is very complicated/upsetting.”
  • “I’m sorry to hear that and I’ll do my best to help.”

Pair Compassion with Action

As you communicate compassion, be ready to follow your words with action.

Take ownership of a situation by following up immediately, by referring it to a superior, or by positively addressing both the person and the problem. Phrases like, “ok, we can fix this,” or “let’s get this sorted out right away,” will reassure customers you’re taking ownership of the problem.

Action-based empathy also means thinking outside the box for large-scale change. Erin Henkel, portfolio director at the IDEO global design and innovation company, says often positive innovation begins with empathy:

“Effective companies need employees who constantly imagine themselves in the customer’s shoes. As they make the customer’s problems their own, they are better able to meet expectations, make necessary changes, and to retain customer loyalty for another day.”

Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a hallmark of intelligent leadership and of excellent teamwork. Work hard to grow empathy and you will open new lines of communication, create greater understanding, and help everyone achieve common goals.

 

 

 

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