Many people don’t realize that a simple, “seemingly” innocent comment, when said to an angry customer can turn a concern or complaint into a full-blown argument. When it comes to the words you choose, they can either be water or gasoline on the customer’s smoldering emotions.
If you’d like to be a customer service fire fighter instead of an arsonist, here are seven things you should never say to your customers, especially when they’re complaining, angry, or upset:
1. Calm down
Never ask or tell customers to calm down. Doing so will only make them more angry because you’re implying they’re out of control or they don’t have a right to be upset.
2. It’s our policy
Customers don’t care about your policies. In fact, they see your policies as rules you’ve created to make your life easier and theirs more difficult. Assuming your policies are created for the good of your customers, share the RATIONALE behind the policy instead.
“You’ll have to fill out this form, otherwise the doctor can’t see you,” becomes, “We ask you to fill out an information form each time because we want to ensure we have the most current insurance information so that your benefits aren’t delayed and you’re not overcharged for services.”
3. You’ll have to
If you want to see customers do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you want them to do, just go ahead and tell them they HAVE TO do something. In fact, to use a cliché, a customer will “cut off his nose to spite his face,” just to prove to you that he doesn’t HAVE TO do what you say.
4. You should have
Telling a customer he or she should have done something is the equivalent of calling him or her stupid. As a customer, I don’t want or need you to point out what I should have been smart enough to figure out on my own. Just tell me what I can do about the situation NOW.
5. As I told you before
First you call me stupid, now you’re implying that I can’t hear or don’t listen. If customers ask you the same question again, it means one of two things, one- they didn’t hear you or didn’t understand, so just share the information again without making the point that you’ve already told them, or two- they didn’t like the answer they received and are looking for a better one.
6. You’re not understanding me, or You don’t seem to understand
As with #5 above, telling customers they don’t understand implies that you think they’re stupid. What if it’s you that’s just not being clear? It would be better to say, “Let me see if I can explain it better,” or to ask, “What questions do you have?”
7. I can’t or You can’t
Customers don’t want to hear about what you can’t do for them and they certainly don’t want you telling them they can’t do something (see #3 above). Just tell them what you CAN do for them or about the problem, or what they CAN do themselves to resolve the issue.
A final tip: These phrases have the same effect when stating them to a spouse, child, neighbor, parent, or others during a conflict situation. Anyone who has told a child, “you can’t” knows that you’ve just given them the challenge to do the exact opposite.
If you’d like to learn more about what you SHOULD say when interacting with customers, coworkers, and others, check out my book, Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.
– Amy Castro, The Performance Communication Blog