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Feb 27, 2007

The Telephone Doctor: Things your customers never want to hearNancy FriedmanCustomer service tips Customer service plays such an important role in business today. No one will ever argue against that. What they will argue about, though, is how companies treat customers and how their staff communicates with them. Believe me, some of the horror stories that I hear—let alone what happens to me personally—are beyond anyone's imagination. Over the years, Telephone Doctor has created a list of things that your customers never want to hear. These phrases (along with many others, I'm sure) are guaranteed to turn customers off and rush them to the competition. And yet, they're said to customers day after day, time and again. While I'm not able to share them all with you in this article, I will give you a sneak preview of one of them—the really, really bad one. Ready? The worst of the five forbidden phrases is the simple three-word phrase, "I don't know." That's it. It looks harmless, doesn't it? Yet it drives customers up the wall and will drive them away from your company. To ask a simple question about your company or product and get a bland "I don't know" is inexcusable. I know what you're thinking: "Yeah, Nancy, but I'm new and really don't know. What do I say instead?" Being new does not give you carte blanche to be bland. Use our positive alternatives, instead. "I don't know" sounds like "I don't care" to the customer. (Yes, it does!) Positive alternatives are readily available and, in this case, simple. Let's say you've been asked something about a product and you have no idea what the customer is talking about. The problem is that someone has asked you something you don't have the answer to. (And trust me; it will happen to everyone at one time or another. We simply blank out. It's not an age thing. It can happen at 23, 33, 63 or 103. We just lose it. It's easy to do.) What's the solution? Stop before you answer. Think. Then, use the Telephone Doctor's positive alternative. "Gee, Mr. Customer, that's a very good question. Let me check and find out for you." After all, you can find out. There's very little about your company that you aren't able to find for someone. It may not be right away; that's true. But we have also found that most questions don't need an answer as soon as we ask it. So, be sure to also ask, "Mr. Customer, when did you need that information?" That's it. Easy, isn't it? And yet, every day, millions of people are saying, "I don't know" to their customers instead. How sad. How unfortunate. How rude! "I don't know" is a total rejection. You might as well flat out say you don't care, because that's what the customer will hear. Now, I did have one lady come up to me and tell me she always tells the customer, "I don't know, but I'll find out." You can use that, of course, but those of us in the training area know that "but" is the big eraser word. It erases everything you say afterward. Besides, at Telephone Doctor, we prefer to start our sentences in the positive, rather than the negative. Simply put, only use positive statements at the top of the conversation. So, "I don't know" is now a forbidden phrase, if you've read this article. Catch yourself when you say it and use the Telephone Doctor's positive alternative. "Gee, Mr. Customer, that's a great question. Let me check and find out. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Customer, when did you need that information?" I'm sure your company has its own forbidden phrases. We'd love to hear them. E-mail your business forbidden phrases to [email protected]. Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training in St. Louis. For more information, call (314) 291 1012 or visit
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Feb 27, 2007
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