Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Yes, The Words We Say Do Affect Customers

Posted by Becky Carroll on January 17, 2007

mouth-headset.jpgOne of the unspoken tenets of customer service is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Then why is it that customer service personnel use words that they would never want used on them?  I don’t mean nasty language (although there are instances of that).  I am talking about meaningless phrases.

We use them everyday.  When we walk down the hall and see a colleague, we say, “Hi, how are you?”, but how many of us really wait around to listen to the answer?  Glenn Ross over at got me thinking about words in his post on the subject.  Here are some phrases found from the UK website Plain English Campaign which are considered cliches over there (thanks to ManagerTools for this link from the comments):

  • 24/7
  • absolutely
  • address the issue
  • awesome
  • ballpark figure
  • basically
  • basis (‘on a weekly basis’ in place of ‘every week’ and so on)
  • bear with me
  • between a rock and a hard place
  • blue sky thinking
  • boggles the mind
  • bottom line
  • crack troops
  • diamond geezer
  • epicentre (used incorrectly)
  • glass half full (or half empty)
  • going forward
  • I hear what you’re saying..
  • in terms of…
  • it’s not rocket science
  • literally
  • move the goalposts
  • ongoing
  • prioritise
  • pushing the envelope
  • singing from the same hymn sheet
  • the fact of the matter is
  • thinking outside the box
  • to be honest/to be honest with you/to be perfectly honest
  • touch base
  • value-added (in general use) 
  • Customer service, especially the contact center, has its own set of over-used phrases.  I have included a few here to get  started:

    • We value your business
    • Your business is important to us
    • How are you doing today?
    • I understand your concern
    • Thank you for your feedback
    • For faster service, go to our website at…
    • Due to a large call volume
    • Customers are our business
    • I will need to transfer you

    Many of these phrases are examples of poor customer service scripts.  Unfortunately, when customers hear these types of phrases, they begin to question the sincerity of the customer service representative.  Trust may also be affected, especially if a customer has a problem to resolve, if this is a repeat call, or if the customer has been transferred multiple times.  “If my business was really important to you, you wouldn’t treat me like this!” 

    A great attitude and kindness on the part of the Customer Service Rep can help bad-scripting situations.  See Doug Karr’s recent post on his problems with AT&T to get a real-world example of a loyal customer trying to make his way through the system.   Even though he was frustrated, he was able to see that the agents themselves were friendly.  Agent/customer service rep friendliness can help some situations, but not all!

    Three Tips for Improvement 

    CustomersRock! companies understand that every interaction with a customer impacts not only customer satisfaction but the brand as well.  Here are three tips for companies when planning how to interact with customers.

    1. Review your scripts for all customer touch points.  Look for key phrases that are overused or can be irritating to customers and replace them with something customer-friendly.

    2. Train agents not to repeat phrases that are on a script if the phrase doesn’t make sense in a given situation.  This requires agents that can think on their feet!

    3. Make sure your most valuable customers are treated with special care.  Flag them as they come in so they can be recognized appropriately in conversation by the agent.

    Finally, be honest and speak from the heart.  Customers can always hear truth.

    (Thank you to Maria Palma at CustomersAreAlways and Tom Vander Well at QAQnA for getting this conversation started a few months ago.)

    10 Responses to “Yes, The Words We Say Do Affect Customers”

    1. Bob G said

      Nice post Becky – how about “Our guidelines do not allow that request”? and tagging on to “due to a large call volume…your call will be answered by the next available agent” and when it tells me ” do not hang up to assure your call will be answered in the correct order” I want to SLAM the phone 🙂

      There are too many good organizations that exemplify customer service. Why waste time with the others?

    2. You’re welcome! Thanks to you for continuing the conversation. I just received an e-mail this morning from a Call Center QA coach who was asking about the appropriateness of the word “kosher”. Our word choices are a very relevant issue, and worth consideration.

    3. Thanks for the kind words, gentlemen.

      Bob, I agree that those automated messages are some of the worst offenders. As far as guidelines, if they are indeed only guidelines the rep should be able to escalate the request!

      Unfortunately, we are stuck with some of the poor customer service organizations when they are the only choice out there (ie. utilities). 😦

      Tom, great to see you weighing in. Choosing words carefully can indeed mean the difference between a business-as-usual customer experience versus one that may turn the customer away forever if they are offended, especially words that may have religious connotations. Good for the Call Center coach for asking about it!

    4. Thanks for the link, Becky. Your 3 tips are right on target.

      I’ll be reading…



    5. Thank you, Glenn! Glad to have you here.

    6. Douglas said


      You should check out this post – it was written with a lot of help:

    7. Thanks, Doug! Nice PDF included with not only what not to say, but suggestions for how to say it better.

    8. […] by Becky Carroll on February 6th, 2007 As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, the words we use with customers do make a difference.  This is never truer than when an […]

    9. […] I mentioned in one of my recent posts, the words we use with customers do make a difference.  This is never truer than when an […]

    10. Penny said

      I do trust all the ideas you have introduced for your post.
      They’re very convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for starters. May you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

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