Three Words to Avoid When Talking to a Customer

John Scott
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Customer service representatives have one primary tool — their words. The words they choose have the ability to smooth an interaction with a frazzled customer or help a customer choose the right products and services. With the right words, customer service representatives solve problems, build company loyalty and increase sales. The wrong words, on the other hand, have the power to drive customers away. Three words, in particular, should be avoided at all costs.

The three words to avoid as a customer service representative are "no," "can't" and "buy."

A good customer service representative never says the word "no." The word stops the conversation. Instead of saying "no," a good CSR finds a way to solve the customer's problem.

If a customer asks for something that a company cannot provide, such as,"Can you replace my broken smartphone," saying "no" ends the conversation. After hearing "no," the customer may hang up or believe that the problem cannot be solved. A good CSR says, "We have a free smartphone repair service that fixes many types of smartphone damage. How is your smartphone damaged?" This eliminates the conversation-stopping "no" and directs the conversation towards finding a solution to the broken smartphone problem.

Likewise, a professional customer service representative avoids the word "can't." When a CSR says she can't do something, the customer immediately wonders why the CSR can't do the task requested. Instead of hearing "I cannot," the customer hears "I choose not to."

Customers know that customer service representatives have many options available to them. They know that CSRs have the power to remove late fees, lower costs or connect them with more experienced managers. When CSRs say they "can't" do these things, they lose credibility with the customer.

Instead of saying "can't," a good CSR uses the three words that should be said more often: "I don't know." "I don't know if I can remove that late fee. May I put you on hold while I talk to a manager?" This tells the customer that the CSR is choosing to take action to solve the problem while simultaneously giving the CSR an out if the manager says the late fee cannot be removed.

The last word that a good customer service representative always avoids is the word "buy." When a customer calls to make a purchase or a booking, the word "buy" has an unexpected negative effect. It makes the customer think about payments, losing money and other negative outcomes. The word "buy" is especially negative when used during an upsell process; instead, a good CSR frames an upsell as "Would you like to take advantage of this special offer?"

In the end, of course, a customer service representative's ability to solve problems is much stronger than the individual words she uses. The now-infamous 18-minute Comcast customer service call, for example, became national news not because of the words the CSR used, but because of his inability to solve the customer's very simple problem.

Three words to avoid when talking to a customer are "no," "can't" and "buy." Customer service representatives who avoid these words keep conversations going smoothly as they work toward solving customers' problems, making sales and ending every conversation with a happy customer.

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