In the hospitality industry everybody has customers. If you work in the Accounting department, you have customers. If you're a custodian, you have customers too. Sometimes our customers are internal customers. Sometimes they're external customers. Our job is to assist them, and make sure they get what they need through a positive customer experience.
Sometimes in our interactions, there are dozens of things we can say to customers that come across as condescending, flippant or tacky – things that will destroy the customer experience instantly.
Nearly 70% of customers quit doing business with an organization because they felt they were treated rudely or with indifference, according to studies. Most of the employees who treated customers that way probably never even realized it.
Right or wrong, many customer-facing employees don’t even know when they say a word or use a tone that offends customers.
The worst part: Most customers aren’t going to tell you that they were offended or bothered by what was said. They’ll just resent the experience and not come back.
Choose your words carefully
Pepper conversations, email exchanges, text messages and promotional copy with the words customers love to hear — their names, “thank you,” “please,” “our pleasure” and “problem solved.” Front-line employees may even want to share a smile, laugh or a story. But, avoid these sentences, words and phrases in customer communications:
It’s no big deal
It may not be a big deal to you but rest assured if customers brought something to your attention — a problem, concern or question — it’s a big deal to them. Instead, say “Tell me more.”
Don’t worry about it
You don’t know how any customer handles anxiety or personal and business issues. Worry may be healthy for one person. It may be a sign of weakness for another. The key is to never tell customers how to feel. Instead, say, “I will take care of it.”
You’re the first one to complain about this
Most customers walk away without ever saying a word. So, when you hear a unique complaint, imagine there are many more unspoken issues like it. This customer is doing you a favor by pointing to a potential bigger problem. Instead, say, “That’s interesting. What more can you tell me?”
You don’t seem to understand
The problem could be that you aren’t being clear. But by saying this, you imply that customers are think-headed. Instead, say, “What can I clarify?”
That sounds good in theory, but…
This suggests yours is a real-world perspective and the customer’s view is totally off base. That may be how you see it, but customers will be insulted if their theory is quickly scoffed at. Instead, say, “I see your point, and please bear with me while I share mine.”
I know how you feel right now, but you really shouldn’t because…
Customers may tell you outright, “I’m angry,” “I’m elated” or “I’m frustrated” so the first part of this sentence is correct. You do know how they’re feeling. The problem is, it’s never a good idea to tell customers why they should or shouldn’t feel one way or another. Instead, say, “I can understand why you’d feel that way. Let’s see what we can do now.”
I’m not the best person to deal with this, so I’ll send you to…
Customers were able to reach you, so they expect that you are the person to handle their questions or issues. Saying something like this undermines your credibility and the trust customers may have had in you. When there is someone more qualified to help, let customers know you want the best for them and aren’t just casting them off to someone else. Instead, say, “I can help, but Susie is the absolute best in that area. I’d like to bring her in on this. Is that OK with you?”
It’s not my/our fault
Responsible, successful companies and individual employees dealing with customers never point fingers or look for scapegoats. They own up to their faults and pursue immediate fixes and long-term solutions to retain the respect of their customers. Instead, say, “Let’s see what can be done about this right now.”
The policy stinks
Sure, we all have to live by and enforce some policies that we don’t like, don’t understand or think are unfair to customers. But you’re the face of the company, and if you are detached from its practices and beliefs, customers will think there’s something wrong with them. Instead, say, “To ensure the best for our customers, we’ll need to …” or “It’s our common practice to …”
I haven’t had a raise in five years
Being upset and admitting it will hurt your credibility with customers and the boss. Complaining about no low pay is tacky. Instead, say nothing.
Brooke Meyer is the managing partner of Caymera International, a Caymanian-owned hospitality and tourism consulting and advisory firm. She’s an industry veteran and holds a master’s certificate in Hospitality Management from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and has also earned continuing education certifications in Hotel Real Estate and Asset Management, Digital Marketing, and Revenue Management from Cornell University.