Customer service: How language used can determine customer experience

Think of the last time you experienced great service. Can you remember how it made you feel?

I’m guessing you can, even if you don’t remember much of the other detail.

What about bad service? Easier to call to mind?

There are many aspects that make up our perception of great service, but it’s worth considering the impact of language upon the experience from the customer’s point of view.

Positive language

Words that are good to use in customer interaction include anything that gives the customer confidence that they are going to get a positive outcome. Especially that positive outcome that they have specifically sought. Reassuring words fall perfectly in this category.

  • ‘Certainly’
  • ‘Ideal’
  • ‘Assured’
  • ‘Absolutely’

Re-affirming the customer’s expectations will usually be a good thing. Don’t overdo any of this of course, as unnecessary process or overly verbose communications can be annoying.

Some words that may be good but only if used in a qualified way include:

  • ‘Excellent’ (if used as an enthusiastic form of agreement, but not if used as a generic and non-specific descriptor). You may think your product is excellent, but the customer needs to know how and why.
  • ‘Great’, for example when those people whose job it is to sell us a vision of our own future (politicians) describe a country as returning to greatness. It depends entirely on our perception of their perception of great.
  • ‘Recommended’ if from a trusted source.
  • ‘Easier / better for you’. This depends on whether or not that improvement is valuable to the customer. There are times when a customer does not want ‘better’. They may want exactly what they have now. Or they may want cheaper.
  • ‘I agree’ – as long as this is used in a sincere way.

Polite words that let your customer know you value their time.

  • ‘Thank you for returning my call’.
  • ‘Thank you for waiting.’

Words that might be positive – it depends

  • ‘However’ (in the sense of, ‘I could do this for you, however …’).
  • ‘Guaranteed’ – as long as it’s credible, i.e. you have the power to live up to it.
  • ‘Personally’ (we all have different needs and preferences).
  • ‘Can I help you?’ (Tone is important here).
  • ‘Leave it with me’ (great for conveying a sense of trust, as long as the follow up is completed)
  • ‘I apologise’ (if it’s insincere)
  • Even worse is ‘All I can do is apologise’. Actually, it’s clearly not all you can do …
  • ‘Fine’. As in, ‘this product is fine’ / ‘the service you received seems fine to me’.
  • ‘Sir / madam’ (could sound a little patronizing – especially if you start using it during an argument)

Words to run an absolute mile from

  • Anything that makes no sense. This includes ‘in regards to’ (no such phrase).
  • Dehumanising words. I worked briefly for a company that was involved in the insurance business. I can tell you I had a really uncomfortable reaction every time I heard one of my colleagues refer to their customer as ‘The Insured’. Not sure how bad this is? How about … “Hey, Susan, I’ve got this insured on the phone … ! Just call them the customer.
  • Anything that involves telling the customer what to do. For example people who think that really vague terms in a contract can be used to enforce specific things: ‘You must give me this information, you must pay extra charges’ etc.

So language matters. It affects behaviour, and therefore service. It sets the tone in relation to what’s important and what isn’t. It can transform an average experience into a special one.

The key ingredient to make all of this work: It has to be sincere. It’s the difference between

“Want fries with that?” and “Can I get you some lovely fries? They’d go great with that”.

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