5 Customer Service Phrases to Avoid (and What to Say Instead)

In May of 2018, Barbara Carroll ordered three cartons of toilet paper from Amazon. The order total: $88.17. The shipping charges? $7,455.

Carroll wasn’t overly concerned, as Amazon typically takes great care of its customers. But in this case, Carroll complained to Amazon six times and even wrote a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos. After every complaint, she received a form letter explaining a refund was impossible because the delivery arrived on time and undamaged. It wasn’t until Carroll notified a local television station (and the story went viral) that Amazon took action. Months later, she was finally reimbursed.

While this case is extreme, every company has its share of customer service flops. In some situations, the problem is no communication. In other cases, it’s inconsiderate attitudes.

Want to steer your team toward positivity? Here are five customer services phrases to avoid.

1. "No" (or) "I can’t help you with that."

Even if a customer makes an impossible request, it’s your responsibility to care for them and to steer them toward a solution.

Alternatives to try:

“This feels like an issue which might be out of my control, but let me double check . . ."

“That’s not my area of expertise, but I want to connect you with someone who can help.”

2. "I don’t know" (or) "You need to check with someone else."

If you can’t solve a problem, be as helpful as possible. Rather than abandoning someone mid-stream, work with them to find an answer.

Alternatives to try:

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

“I’m not sure, but I’d be happy to look into that.”

3. "Ok, calm down."

When diffusing a tense situation, telling someone to calm down usually frustrates them more. Instead, communicate empathy and turn the focus from the problem to the solution.

Alternatives to try:

“I understand how this must have upset you, and I’ll get on it immediately.”

“That would frustrate me too.”

“I’m sorry for this inconvenience. Let me help you with that right away.”

4. "I don’t understand the issue."

People who are upset find uncertainty even more frustrating. If you’re struggling to connect, clarify the issue or soften your request.

Alternatives to try:

“OK, so let me clarify…”

“What I’m hearing is [ISSUE], is that correct?

“If it’s not too much of a problem, I would ask you to be a bit more specific…”

5. "I’m going to put you on hold."

Time is valuable, so don’t assume you can extend a service call without asking permission. If you do have someone hold, check back with a status update if they’ve waited longer than two minutes.

Alternatives to try:

“I understand your issue and if it’s ok, I’m going to ask you to hold on while I check on a solution.”

“The problem you’re describing is rather peculiar, so if you have a minute, I’d like to put you on hold while I check with my supervisor.”

“I’ll get right on it. If it’s ok, I’d like to look into this today and call back to you once I resolve this.”

Ultimately, customer service is not about the right words but the right attitudes. Remember, the biggest customer service frustration question is “why isn’t this as important to you as it is to me?” As you handle issues, address the person behind the problem. Communicate with compassion, empathy, and enthusiasm, and you will find your way through many sticky situations.

Use Game-Based Learning to Train Your Employees

Ethel Merman thought people should lighten up to really live, crooning these lyrics in 1931:

“Life is just a bowl of cherries: don’t take it serious, it’s too mysterious . . .

Life is just a bowl of cherries, so live and laugh at it all!”

Is life all fun and games? Definitely not.

But leadership experts are finding that one of the best ways to train people is by helping them laugh and compete as they learn through play.

United States… Gaming?

Recently, the US Army employed “serious gaming” to address challenges in their leadership training.

While soldiers were very capable in weapons and war strategies, the Army found its forces need to grow in their soft skills by increasing familiarity with the values, norms, and cultures where they were deployed.

First Person Cultural Trainer, a gaming simulation, was developed specifically to help junior leaders understand the consequences of their speech, body language, temperaments, and choices. Trainees used a 3D avatar to interact and work with individuals in a foreign community and to gain feedback on how their choices affected their ability to build rapport. Students progressed through four levels of gaming to build communication, interpersonal, and intelligence gathering skills.

Games for the Win

Advances in game-training strategies have steered many organizations toward a more recreational focus in their corporate cultures.

Games and stories are a fundamental part of human life: according to one study done by Essential Facts, in 2016 more than 60% of households in America had someone playing video games regularly. Humans excel in games because we love reward-based challenges, especially when objectives become progressively harder or more addictive!

To embed gaming in their corporate training culture Cisco used a “LiveOps” call center to challenge competing agents, ultimately reducing call time by 15% and improving sales by an average of 10%.

A Colorado restaurant gamified its objective to increase sales of specific menu items. When they sold a 4-pack of cinnamon rolls, staff could play online “point-yielding games,” and reward points were redeemable for a branded debit card. One study estimated this restaurant realized a 66.2% ROI due to the increase in sales productivity.

Why do games work? Game training is effective because it:

  • Motivates employees to surpass expectations or to complete training exercises
  • Allows people to fail and try again without negative repercussions
  • Makes time for real-time reflection and feedback sessions
  • Grows individual confidence in carrying out tasks (as people practice, break challenges into micro-learning segments, and accurately perceive their ability to succeed)

Game Options of Your Own

Want to improve productivity or increase the cost-effectiveness of your team training?

Games offer hands-on, motivating opportunities that can be used over and over. Purchase simulations like GameLearn training platforms, or consider three hands-on options of your own:

1. New Hire Scavenger Hunt.

Whether it’s a physical or online hunt for facts, facilities, or people, get people competing and moving and calm their nerves in the process.

2. Product Knowledge Mix and Match.

Employees take turns being introduced to a variety of customers (including purchasing needs, budget, or personal background).Players then compete to match the best product to each customer while negotiating a deal or completing the sale.

3. “What If” Training Simulations.

These games give teams the opportunity to explore hypothetical situations.

If they made XX decision, what would happen? Assign real-life tasks and challenges, allow teams to collaborate and present options, and process together about the benefits or consequences of the strategies they chose. Added bonus: supervisors learn alongside employees and gain hands-on experience in leading their teams!

Communication of Change

Keys to Meaningful Change

The oil crises of the 1970s rocked many industry giants, including the transportation industry.

In 1981, British Airways was reeling from massive financial losses and a reputation for terrible service. Nearing meltdown, the airline brought on a new chairperson, Lord King, who quickly spotlighted three areas where the company was operating inefficiently: careless spending, disorganized staffing, and inadequate communication. King’s leadership quickly produced results. After only ten years, the company became the largest airline in the UK, reporting the highest profits in its industry ($284 million, to be exact!).

What was the key to this turnaround?

Large-scale organizational change. King made major structure changes, including a reduced workforce (from 59,000 to 39,000), elimination of unprofitable routes, modernization of the existing fleet, and marketing upgrades to revamp the airline’s image.

Did King make these massive changes by crossing his fingers and wishing for the best? Hardly. British Airlines combined accurate research with a clear strategy that informed their decisions and overcame resistance.

Discontentment: The Shadow Side of Success

One thing King had in his favor was discontentment, which was at an all-time high.

While many of us believe contentment is key to a happy life, sometimes pain (including frustration with “business as usual”), is a gateway to greater fulfillment. Experts find that a shadow side of successful people is this common personality trait: they struggle with perpetual discontentment. Forbes columnist Brianna Weist says this:

“There is a difference between people who are content and people who are successful, and it is because the latter push themselves whereas the former tries to sustain the status quo. Without a certain measure of growth or expansion, the human mind gets bored, or tired. This will, eventually, lead to a tipping point at which the content person becomes discontent… and then change is made.”

Change as a Formula

Pain moves us: to make radical shifts, to take risks we wouldn’t otherwise consider, and to get the full potential out of life.

Dissatisfaction, combined with a skill set and action plan, can be the most essential agent for change. But far-reaching change can be tricky to maneuver, requiring precise timing and a thoughtful strategy.

Organizational change experts David Gleicher and Kathie Dannemiller coached change strategists with a model that looks something like this:

  • If change were a formula, it is this: “D * V * PF > R” (Dissatisfaction * Vision * Preferred Future > Resistance)
  • Dissatisfaction paired with a vision for a preferred future motivates people to overcome resistance to change.
  • To catalyze change, an idea or product must possess a clear path for a breakthrough while fanning the flame of frustration with the current state of being. If the product of those three factors is greater than the existing resistance, change will occur.

What This Means For Your Business

It means you can relax, even when people are unhappy!

Intentionally listen to your employees and customers and consider rising frustration as the first step to positive change. Use the change model to evaluate whether the time is right to communicate early steps towards meaningful shifts. Find healthy networks or professional development opportunities where you can reflect on industry trends, process leadership ideas, and analyze competitors to identify areas of opportunity.

Finally, cut yourself some slack if you feel irritated with your own areas of personal frustration. Great futures can come from great pain, so allow your dissatisfaction to chart a course toward exciting new destinations. You’ve got this!

How to Turn Negativity into Inspiration

It’s easy to look at successful business people and feel jealous of what they’ve accomplished. They make it look so easy that you wonder why you’re not having the same level of success in your life and career. However, what you may not see is the hundreds of times they’ve had their ideas shot down, been passed over for a promotion, and just generally rejected in their lives. No one is immune to the soul-crushing feeling of harsh criticisms, but how you react to these situations is what makes the difference. From taking a leap into the unknown to dealing with difficult situations, these stories of overcoming negative situations will inspire you to achieve more than you could possibly imagine.

Stirring Generations of Moviegoers

George Lucas tried to sell his Star Wars script with studios for nearly five years before he finally received his first chance. It’s almost unimaginable that without one 20th Century Fox executive who believed in his vision, generations of children and adults alike would have never been introduced to that vast galaxy that lives far, far away. Today, this franchise is worth over $30 billion and continues to expand. His thoughts about always pushing forward through rejection and failure? “You use the information that you’ve gotten, which is experience . . . Failure is another word for experience.”

Apprentice Yourself in Failure

Henry Ford’s story tells how he spent his life working on every conceivable type of device, but it wasn’t until he tried his hand at creating a horseless carriage that he truly began — to fail. He started multiple companies with various partners, each time attempting to find the secret sauce that would allow him to produce his automobile efficiently and cost-effectively. Throughout his journey, he faced setbacks and people who didn’t believe that he could be successful. Finally, he found the ideal financial backer who allowed him to realize his true vision of an inexpensive yet reliable vehicle that could be mass-produced. By never giving up, he not only made Ford a household name but also created innovative production methods that jump-started the American economy.

Demoted, Fired . . . President of the United States

There are few Cinderella stories more inspirational than that of Abraham Lincoln. From his birth in a one-room log cabin to a sketchy education, Abraham Lincoln went on to become one of the most influential leaders in American history. Not only was he demoted during his stint in the Army, not only did he work through several failed businesses, but he also suffered defeat through multiple elections before rising to the country’s highest position. Abraham Lincoln’s inspiring story shows that failure is truly never an option.

The Right Job for Enough Money

Not everyone equates becoming rich and famous with being successful. In fact, Professor Jeffrey Sachs feels that the key to inspiration is finding the right job for enough money. Being inspired, and inspiring others, often comes towards the middle or end of a long career that can include negativity, stress, poor bosses, and apathetic co-workers. While it’s practically impossible to know upfront whether a particular job will become what inspires you, the only way to reach that higher plane is through overcoming negativity. Work-life balance and true happiness come through the inspiration to excel wherever life finds you.

Life is difficult, and few people will hand you an opportunity on a silver platter. Turning negativity into inspiration may be one of the toughest things that you will ever do, but the payoff is everything! Take a moment each day to inspire and uplift others. You never know when your kind words could encourage someone to keep pushing towards their dreams.

Five Ways to Provide Mind-Blowing Customer Service

Did you know that surprising and delighting your customers is something that starts before they are truly aware of your business and brand? Each interaction throughout the customer lifecycle is an opportunity to provide mind-blowing customer service that people simply must share with their friends. Creating true advocates for your business should be your goal, and that only happens when customers are over-the-top excited about your product and service offerings. How do you inspire that type of loyalty in what can be a fickle audience? Five Ways to Provide Mind-Blowing Customer Service:

1. Treat Employees Like Gold

Your most important asset when it comes to ensuring long-term customer loyalty is closer than you may realize — your staff! When your employees are empowered to react quickly to negative situations and provide proactive support to ward off challenges, your customers will feel the difference. Employees who feel as though they’re simply showing up to punch a clock are lacking something, and that will show up in their interactions with customers. Employees who are regularly rewarded for going above and beyond expectations will continue that trend.

2. Foster a Culture of Possibilities

When you foster a culture of possibilities for your staff, they will be much more likely to take exceptional care of your customers. Why? Because employees take more ownership, and “your” customers become “their” customers . . . and friends. Good customer service is expected (and even demanded) by today’s customers. Going the next step to completely blowing your customers’ mind takes extra effort to provide unexpected benefits. This could mean providing free custom proofs to clients, adding in 10% overages “just because” or delivering earlier than expected. On time and on budget are expectations — you have to raise the bar to blow their minds.

3. Create an Easy Button

There will always be customers who are looking for the fastest and cheapest items. However, the customers you really want to cultivate are those who are willing to pay a premium for truly exceptional service and delivery times. The majority of people in America today have severely limited time, and when you’re able to show customers that you respect their needs and move quickly, they will be surprised and delighted. Optimize each process, remove unnecessary clicks from your website and apps and generally think through the user experience at every turn.

4. Focus on What’s Important

Customer-facing organizations are often looking for ways to reduce the amount of time required to interact with the public on each transaction. While this can result in efficiency for customers and staff alike, it can also cause a measure of frustration when poorly implemented. Forget the long list of meaningless metrics that don’t impact service levels or profitability. Look for measurements that directly impact customer satisfaction such as the number of calls required to resolve a return, for instance.

5. Stand Out from the Crowd

Are your competitors sending out postcards? Take their concept and go bigger: send a unique mailer that is truly attention-grabbing. There are rumors going around that “direct mail is dead”, but nothing could be further from the truth! As fewer competitors rely on print, customers are more likely to be engaged with the unique and interesting pieces that do hit their mailboxes. Have fun with your promotions and your customers will reward you richly.

The reality for businesses today is that customer retention is much less expensive than attempting to find and recruit new customers. Sure, you’re always on the lookout for new customers, but shouldn’t you also look for ways to create an over-the-top excellent service culture that keeps people returning for more?

Never Underestimate the Value of Good Relationships

Tattly was started almost on accident. Design blogger Tina Roth-Eisenberg was looking at the temporary tattoos her daughter received at a birthday party, and was disappointed by the uninspiring fake tattoo designs available. She had many talented artist friends due to an artistic coworking space she’d recently founded. Bringing these folks together to create a new product seemed a natural fit.

Soon after, she had a range of high-quality temporary tattoo designs that she was offering for $5 a piece. In addition to artists from the coworking space, she solicited work from artists who she knew online through her popular design blog.

Two months after beginning work, Tattly launched with 16 designs. The company has grown quickly, with their designs showing up everywhere from high-end retailers like Macy’s to the Tate Museum and the gift bags at the annual White House egg hunt. Over 8,000 retailers now carry Tattly temporary tattoos. Roth-Eisenberg’s success is due as much to successfully leveraging her relationships as it is to her innovative ideas. A few of the ways she made her relationships count:

Look for new ways to leverage relationships.

Like most bootstrapped companies, Tattly was running on a very small margin. Roth-Eisenberg provided the first $15,000 in funding from her own pocket. However, she ran into issues when she realized that she was out of cash to actually print the tattoos.

To solve her cash flow problem, Roth-Eisenberg reached out to a contact and asked if they’d like to sponsor the first "bonus" Tattly, a free temporary tattoo that would ship with every sale. Her partner was enthusiastic about the opportunity. With the advance, Roth-Eisenberg was able to pay for the first printing of her tattoos.

When you are considering a new direction, always remember what your current contacts do besides the business they do with you. You may have opportunities that you never thought of.

Show support to the ones who support you.

Too many platforms and businesses undervalue the creative talent that helps them find their success. Tattly has formed strong and loyal relationships with artists from all over by providing a healthy commission on every one of the tattoo designs shown. At the time of this writing, the company has paid out over $1 million in royalties to artists. Because of this, Tattly has attracted over 120 talented designers.

Let your fans be your ambassadors.

When Tattly started, the company did not have a budget for promotion. However, Eisenberg’s existing following from her design blog provided a huge boost. Her social media following worked like a built-in PR and marketing engine. Tattly’s influence only grew as proud followers shared the eye-catching designs. This was enough to quickly draw the attention of wholesalers who were happy to carry the bright and fun pieces of art.

Have confidence in your relationships and provide as much value as you seek. Through this and some creative thinking, you can make opportunities not just for your business, but for all of your potential collaborators.

Journey: Repeat Success is No Small Achievement

Arnel Pineda never imagined that he would be fronting the world-famous rock band, Journey, when he began singing American rock songs with his friends’ band as a teenager.

For years his exceptional singing talent had been good enough to belt out songs with club bands doing parties, special events, contests, weddings, and regular appearances around the Philippines, Pineda’s home country. However, one evening Pineda was filmed doing his performance with a particular Journey song, "Don’t Stop Believin’." The performance, as well as Pineda’s accuracy in singing the song so similar to how the original version was sung by the first Journey frontman, Steve Perry, shocked people. It also shocked the guitarist and an original member of Journey, Neil Schon, when he watched the YouTube video as well. One would think that the fairytale story ended at this point as Pineda rocketed to fame as Journey’s replacement singer. However, that’s not quite how things went.

Upping Your Game

Yes, Pineda could sing, no argument. And he did a darn good version of Journey as a bar band singer. However, the band made it clear to Pineda that if he were to be considered a serious contender for the real band, he would have to up his game. That meant singing all the original Journey songs to perfection.

It’s easy for the typical person to think this challenge might be doable. That’s because no one sees what Pineda had to go through to match every tone and every inflection that Steve Perry had done to make Journey’s songs famous in the first place. Unlike Perry, who could craft a new song with any version of voice he liked, Pineda had to duplicate the original to every single detail. It was a grueling process with Schon and company catching every mistake and pushing Pineda to reach the zenith of his ability. There were plenty of times Pineda wanted to quit as well, questioning his own talent. Fortunately, the Filipino singer realized his full potential and succeeded.

Success Can Be Hard to Repeat

This story is a classic case showing how hard it is to achieve success a second time once a standard or great performance has been achieved in the first place. In business, a one-time success is just that, a fortunate blip. When a business team can repeat the performance and do even better consistently, that’s a huge achievement. It proves that the success was not just good luck or a brief opportunity when things just fell into place.

Repeat success is the primary goal every business team strives to achieve. And it is extremely hard. Conditions change, markets fluctuate, customers move to new interests, team members leave and get replaced. All of these factors and more change the mix in how successful a team can be. To overcome these changes and repeat the success is really the higher level of performance that pays big with rewards when it can be achieved.

Not Just for Entertainment

Think Pineda’s story is just something that happens in the entertainment world? Look at Apple after Steve Jobs passed away. The Apple team lost a core resource in Jobs and still had to find a way to keep Apple growing and succeeding even more than what Jobs had achieved with the company. CEO Tim Cook and company did exactly that, but it was a huge challenge to fill Jobs’ shoes year after year since his passing. In many ways, Cook had to perform just as hard a Pineda to repeat a success and make it better. So the next time you see a repeat success story, don’t dismiss it so quickly. It’s frequently much harder to succeed a second time versus the first.