Whether you’re part of a growing company or a grown company looking to keep your position in the face of fierce competition, you need to carefully monitor what you say to customers.
I’m not talking about keeping details from them. That’s dishonest and not the way great sales and service people operate. I’m talking about how everyone in your organization should phrase responses to place themselves in the best possible position to help customers.
Here’s why this is important: For companies selling B2B, the vast majority of your business next year will come from your current customers, from ongoing business and cross-selling to them. You should be in continual discussion with your customers—and not just for solving problems. In fact, if the only time you’re talking with them is during a problem, by association you become the problem in their eyes.
Many business leaders believe their sales staff are the only ones who are selling. If you think about it, however, everyone in your company is in sales. Each interaction you and your people have with a customer is really another job application. If your current customer base is so vital to your continued success, you don’t want them to question their loyalty to you at the end of a conversation.
Customers rarely call you up to ask how you’re doing and exchange pleasantries. They’re busy. They don’t wake up in the morning thinking of you unless there’s some kind of issue. Perhaps there’s a concern over selections or prices, or there’s a delay or misorder. They have questions you need to answer.
First of all, take a deep breath and resist the urge to give a rapid-fire response. You’ll likely miss the target. Start by asking questions yourself. This will not only get you to the root of the issue, but it will also calm down the customer’s emotional brain as the conversation turns from feelings to facts. Take notes. Repeat back to them your understanding of their issue. Ask them if there’s anything else involved.
Now it’s your turn to speak. There’s a lot of advice about what you should say to customers, but not so much what you shouldn’t say. Here are seven responses I recommend you avoid:
It’s hard not to say no to some customers. It’s better to finesse your answer a little. Even though they may have requested something that’s not possible due to the laws of physics and time, don’t stop the conversation—keep it moving along.
Find out what they think they know and them give them the rest of the vital facts in a gentle way. Only when concerned customers understand all the details can they then see what their true alternatives are—and only then can you see how to help them.
2. I can’t.
This response sounds more like, “I don’t want to.” Maybe you could say, “That’s an interesting idea. Have you also considered […]?”
Diplomats and great negotiators do this all the time. They never really say, “Nope. Can’t do that.” They find broad agreement on a few things and expand the possibilities for final agreements. Find the “can do.”
3. It’s a dumb rule, but I have to follow it.
Now you’re sounding like a prisoner in your own company. There usually are valid reasons for rules. Some are legal requirements and some are internal policies set in place to prevent previous problems from reoccurring.
Help the customer understand and work with them to make their experience as positive as possible. And, if the rule really is that bad and it’s adversely affecting others, bring it up with your leadership (or if you’re in charge, consider finding a new solution).
Don’t lose your professionalism and drop an expletive into an important customer conversation.
Yes, some customers make you want to bang your head against the wall, but no, don’t lose control of the conversation. It’s not cool—and it ruptures any progress you’ve achieved. If the comedian Brian Regan can make a lot of money by not using foul language, why can’t you?
5. I don’t know.
It’s always better to say “I don’t know” than guess, but that’s not a good response unless it’s immediately followed by a promise to return with all the facts. Plus, it gives you another opportunity for a quality customer conversation.
If you follow up quickly and completely, you’ll build even more trust with that customer. They’ll know you’re honest and keep your promises.
Saying “sure” is a throwaway line. With the wrong tone, however, you can appear to be dismissive of the customer’s concern. It can sound more like, “Whatever.”
Put a little enthusiasm in your reply: “Of course we can do that!” “Whatever you need!” Let them know you really care and you’re ready to do whatever you can to help them.
7. No problem.
“No problem” is a common response in too many conversations. It even gets used instead of “you’re welcome” in reply to “thank you.” So, “no problem” is a problem if it makes you appear too informal in the conversation. Perhaps you could smooth your response by saying, “I don’t believe there will be any problem with that at all.”
These are just seven of the many things you should not say to your customers. There are more, to be sure. The important point to remember is that you can lose hard-earned customer loyalty with careless words.
So, the next time you respond to a customer, pause a moment and think about how you’d feel if you heard what you’re about to say.
For more on how to master customer interaction, especially via email communication, check out this article next and download our free email response checklist.
Posted in: Customer Service