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Five forbidden phrases--and great substitutions for them

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Service professionals who choose words well as they help customers, thereby putting them at ease either on the telephone or face-to-face, really have a distinct advantage over others without this expertise, who yet operate in a service environment.

Recently, it was this Examiner's experience to listen as an employee in an Atlanta office answered several customer phone calls. So bad it was, that after a while, the cool haven of the waiting room had to be hastily abandoned for a space outdoors on that sweltering summer's day.

This incident brought to mind the effort of Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor who once did a survey of customers as to the phrases that most annoyed them. That young person would have benefited well from learning about the forbidden phrases-- and how to avoid them. However, you will, right here.

Of the phrases most annoying to customers, that survey found the following were most often mentioned. Here they are, with Soothing Phrases that could replace them.

Forbidden Phrase: "I don't know." or "I have no idea." True, there will be questions for which one may not have a ready answer. However, it is in your place to find that answer for the customer. So, please find a way to get it.

Soothing Phrase: "That's a good question. Let me check and find the answer for you. Will you excuse me, please?" The word "please" is also important here.

Forbidden Phrase: "Hang on a second." as you put the customer on hold. First, nothing is usually accomplished within the second; then we see the painful omission of the word "please", and of course, hang on is unacceptable.

Soothing Phrase: "Mrs. Smith, are you able to hold while I get that information for you?" Then wait for an answer. If it's "Yes." then "Thank you." is in order. The use of the customer's name, if it is known, is also important.

Forbidden Phrase: "I can't do that." Realistically, there will be requests with which you'll find difficult to comply. But try not to say what you can't do; say instead what you can do.

Soothing Phrase: (With a genuine smile)"Let me see what I can do about that." Then find the solution.

Forbidden Phrase:Beginning a sentence with "No . . . " Customers see this as utter rejection. This may be a case in which a particular item is now unavailable, but you may be able to get it for the customer in a few days' time. So, do make the effort.

Soothing Phrase: "At this time we seem to be out of that tool, Mr. Crane, However, I'll be happy to order it for you. May I have your contact information, please?"

Forbidden Phrase: "You'll have to . . . ." Telling customers what they have to do gives an impression of ordering or dictating to them. Advising them is much preferred. Therefore, in this case, merely substitute need for have.

Soothing Phrase: Ms. Cole, you'll need to sign here, so that we may process your order. Thank you.

Here, we have dealt with just five forbidden phrases. But perhaps, as a customer, you may have encountered others equally upsetting. If you have, would you like to share them here in a comment? Thank you.

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