Three Words You Don't Use Enough in Customer Service

John Krautzel
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Many catchphrases pepper the customer service industry. "Service with a smile" is everyone's motto. "The customer is always right" is another industry standard. "Thank you" and "glad to be of service" flow quickly during interactions, but better customer service requires more effort. The three words that customer service personnel should say more often are "I don't know." This short, three-word addition to the customer service protocol goes a long way towards building customer trust.

No one has all the answers. Even the best-informed customer service providers are going to be unsure of the correct response to customer inquiries on occasion. No amount of training or information dissemination prepares staff for every possible question or request. Better customer service training teaches staff to admit when they are unsure of something. A simple "I don't know" gives the customer service provider the time to gather the information that he needs to respond properly and acts as a bridge, building customer trust. The customer knows that the provider is not going to just say anything to try to please him. Using "I don't know" is a sign of strength that the customer service provider is not afraid to admit to not knowing all the answers right away.

Better customer service goes beyond guessing or stretching the truth. Giving false information often leads to dissatisfied customers. No one likes to get a positive answer to their request and then later find that the service is actually unavailable or that serious modifications are required. Building trust is the foundation of a better customer service relationship. Too many positive or quick answers sometimes makes the provider appear suspect. It is important to be well-informed but also to admit the need for more information when necessary.

The key to a quality "I don't know" is the follow-up. Better customer service always extends an "I don't know" with an "I will." For example, a service provider might say, "I don't know if the hotel provides valet service. I will check right now and get right back to you." The "I will" lets the customer know that the provider cares about getting the information he needs and is willing to do what it takes to provide it. "I don't know" combined with "I will" provides a powerful customer service tool for a relaxed customer service staff which knows exactly what to do when presented with a difficult question. It also reassures clientele when they receive quality, accurate answers rather than insincere reassurances or quick, incomplete responses.

Quality customer service starts with a smile and a willingness to please. Better customer service adds honesty and finds the information necessary to respond to difficult questions. The best customer service includes a judicious use of "I don't know" to build trust, credibility and respect.


(Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles /


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