Customer service conversation killers

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In a customer service context, conversations are more fragile than we might initially think. Agents are from Mars, customers are from Venus. In support interactions, this often manifests in crossed wires, missed meaning, and a sour service impression.

The simplest mistakes — the wrong word choice, an ambiguous attitude — can cause conversations to die. These triggers are known as conversation killers. They’re not always done consciously, but they’ll always kill the conversation.

So, what are some common conversation killers, and how can you avoid them in customer service?

1. Complex words and jargon

Using jargon or complex words might seem like a good idea. You’ll impress the customer and make them feel better by demonstrating your expertise.

Unless it just creates confusion. If the customer is confused, they’re unsure how to respond, and that kills the conversation.
The thing is, jargon and complex words might sound impressive, but the only thing they prove is that you know some fancy words. The customer might not know them, either, so when you try to use your fancy words, the customer may feel confused or even ignorant, and withdraw from conversation. No one likes feeling stupid, after all.

Instead, take the time to demonstrate your knowledge and willingness to help in layman’s terms. The customer will understand, and the conversation can continue.

2. Apathy

When you’re bored in a customer conversation, it can be blatantly obvious to the customer — whether your face to face, on the phone, or online. Apathy results in slow replies and one-word responses. Worse, it kills conversations by making them one sided.

When you disengage and only give the simplest answer, you aren’t giving the customer anything to respond to. One-word answers means that as much as the customer may try to reply and engage with you to find an answer, the conversation will inevitably fizzle out. Not to mention, one-sided conversations are boring. It’ll only be a matter of time before the customer gives up and looks elsewhere for their answer.

Plus, apathy is incredibly rude. You demonstrate that you don’t care about helping the customer and you’re not interested in their feedback. That doesn’t make for the best conversation. So, engage with the customer. Give more than one-word replies, and demonstrate that you are listening to them. Be interested and be interesting to keep the conversation flowing.

3. “But”

The word ‘but’ seems innocuous, doesn’t it? In reality, it’s a blight on successful customer service interactions. Whenever the word ‘but’ is used, it drains away any positive sentiment behind the conversation and replaces it with a sense of dread or negativity. The two most common uses of ‘but’ are “Yes, but” and “Sorry, but”. Both are conversation killers that should be rephrased and trained out.

Yes, but” is essentially a long-winded no. Any goodwill from responding in the positive ‘yes’ is immediately erased by ‘but’. When we hear or read that, we expect bad news, and that makes customers disengage almost as much as an outright ‘no’.

Instead, try: “Yes, we can do that. There’s a £[X] processing fee, or we can…”

Sorry, but” is a similar story. ‘But’ turns an appeasing apology into a reluctant rationalisation. Instead of admitting the problem or expressing any regret or sympathy to the customer, you’re defending your actions. This tells the customer you’re more interested in defending yourself than having a conversation or helping them.

Instead, try: “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this.” Then explain what normally happens, and recommend a solution to the problem.

4. Making assumptions

Ever heard the age-old adage ‘never assume, it makes an ass of you (u) and me’? Well assuming does exactly that, because it kills conversations. In a customer service conversation, assumptions tend to happen when you don’t fully understand the issue the customer has brought to you. Or, when they haven’t supplied enough information to help you find the best solution.

For example, you might make assumptions about what the customer knows, has done, or wants to get from the conversation. You can end up confusing or insulting the customer, wasting time on irrelevant fixes, or offering the customer something they haven’t asked for, and don’t want.

At best, making assumptions suggests to your conversation partner that you’re not listening to them. At worst, it tells them that you’re trying to get rid of them as soon as possible. Either way, you’ve killed the conversation. So, instead, ask for more information, clarify unclear points, and confirm any assumptions with the customer before you act on them:

Try: “If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying that [what you think the customer’s issue is]. Is that right?”

Keep your conversations healthy

Conversations are always (at least) a two-way street. They’re killed when one participant stops listening, stops engaging, or stops empathising. And that applies whether you’re having a conversation with your friend at the pub, or with a customer online, over the phone, or on social media.

So, ditch the jargon, stay interested, be sure to listen, and show some empathy. When you can keep your customer conversations healthy, you can keep your customers happy.

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