Nothing Is More Powerful Than Words

If you watch your mouth, you can turn a customer complaint into a customer compliment — with the turn of a phrase.

There’s an old phrase that says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s about the dumbest comment I’ve ever heard.

Nothing is more powerful than words. Individuals, families, teams, companies, and nations are built up or brought down by words.

And the same goes for your relationships with your customers. What you say to your customers is absolutely critical, especially when your customers are unhappy, angry, or complaining. In fact, a nice employee can turn a nice customer into a raging bull by using the wrong words. There are some things you should NOT say.

For starters, avoid the word “no.” A customer doesn’t want to know what you can not do; he’s only concerned with what you can do. A flat-out “no” builds immediate resistance.

A variation of that is “I can’t” or “There’s nothing I can do.” That’s a lie, and the customer knows it’s a lie. The truth is there is always something you can do, which may be listening to the customer or walking him to the right person. Change your words from “I can’t get it to you by Thursday,” to “I can have it delivered on Saturday.”

Avoid the word “policy.” When the customer hears the word “policy,” she automatically interprets that to mean that your policy takes precedence over her needs. That does not make her feel important and she may want to tell you what she thinks of your policy. Instead of “policy,” you could say “The way we handle this is…” It will work much better.

Don’t refer to “they.” It ticks customers off. The customer doesn’t know who “they” are and may never meet “them” anyway. It looks like you’re shrugging off responsibility. Use “I” and “we” instead. It shows you care and are taking on the challenge of fixing the problem.

Along the same lines, “the computer” is a cop-out. The customer doesn’t believe that “The computer canceled their reservation.” Computers don’t do that. A programmer wrote some code that made it happen.

Lastly, don’t ever use the words of a sluggard. Customers hate it when they hear “I’m just a cashier – or – That’s not my job – or – I just work here.” That’s the point. The fact that you work there means you know something that will help the customer, and you can do something to make his life better. Don’t fall into the deadly trap of shrugging off all responsibility and playing the poor-little-powerless-me. Customers will despise you.

Of course, you’re probably wondering, “If I shouldn’t say all those things, what can I SAY or DO if I’m dealing with an upset customer?” Plenty. If you do the following things, you can turn most customers around.

Don’t fight back. When a customer is allowed to tell his story, his anger dissipates.

Just remember, the customer is attacking a situation and not you personally.

You are not admitting error, just letting the customer know you regret the situation, no matter what the reason or where the fault lies.

Once the customer has calmed down a bit, let her know you understand how she must feel. Say something like “I can see how disappointing it must have been to get home and find out the product didn’t work.”

At first chance, ask the customer her name and write it down. Use her name during your conversation. Names focus people on the present — rather than the past situation that originally upset her.

Ask non-threatening, non-defensive questions to break the customer’s tirade. He will have to stop, think, calm down, and answer. At the same time, you’re getting the information you need to understand the scope and nature of the problem. And be sure to repeat back the information conveyed to you to make sure you understand.

Ask the customer what you can do to make the situation right. Sometimes a customer just wants to blow off steam but doesn’t expect anything to be done. In that case, you have helped by listening and understanding the dissatisfaction. If the customer wants something more, be sure you understand exactly what she is asking for.

In most cases it’s possible to give the customer what he wants. And if you do so, studies show that 95% of your customers will buy again if you resolve the problem immediately. If the customer’s request is impossible, explain what you can and cannot do. Offer alternative solutions.

Once an alternative is decided upon, set up a course of action that is agreeable to the customer. Be specific about what will occur and when, such as: “I will talk to the service department this afternoon and get your refund in tomorrow’s mail.” Act promptly to carry out your promise before other work gets in the way and distracts you.

Apologize again. Let the customer know you are truly sorry the situation occurred. Offer your name and telephone number so your customer has a “personal contact” should there be additional questions about this or any other situation.

Whenever possible, follow-up with the customer to see that the solution has been satisfactory. Let the customer know you appreciated the opportunity to make things right and that you appreciate the continued business.

There’s no bigger drain on energy and profits than unhappy customers. But you don’t have to feel helpless, beat up, bewildered or defensive if you follow the process I’ve outlined.

In fact, if you want to get really good at handling difficult situations in general, take a look at my program called “Cooperation and Conflict: Working Together Instead Of Coming Apart.” And if you want to focus strictly on the customer relationship, check out my program entitled “Creating Moments Of Magic: Moving From Customer Service To Customer Enthusiasm.”

Action:  As a team, brainstorm a list of words and phrase that “turn you off” or “tick you off” when you’re a customer. Then examine your list to see which of those words and phrases are ever used by you and your coworkers — with your customers.