How to Stop Saying Dumb Things to Customers


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Customer service employees often say things they shouldn’t.

Case in point, my local movie theater has apparently stopped providing cardboard trays at the concession stand.

When I asked an employee about it, she shrugged and said, “I don’t know, somebody at corporate made that decision.”


Here are a few more cringe-worthy examples:

  • “I don’t make the rules.”
  • “Yeah, we’ve had a lot of complaints.”
  • “We don’t like it either, but there’s nothing I can do.”

Customers can’t stand this. It makes customers feel disempowered and conveys a message that the employee doesn’t care.

Many employees don’t like it either. They often know they shouldn’t say these things. Or, they realize their error as soon as the words leave their mouths.

Heck, I said something dumb to the first customer I ever served. I knew better, but in the moment I couldn’t prevent the words from leaving my mouth. (You can read the story by downloading this free chapter from my book, Service Failure.)

So, why does it happen?

Employees put their foot in their mouth like this for three reasons.

  1. There’s a problem the employee can’t fix or prevent.
  2. The employee is protecting his or her ego.
  3. The employee doesn’t know a better way to handle it.

Fortunately, there’s a way to help employees help themselves.


Say This, Not That Exercise

I first read about this activity in the wonderful book, The Effortless Experience

It’s designed to help customer service employees craft better responses to common customer complaints. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Gather the team.
  2. Brainstorm a list of common customer complaints.
  3. For each one, identify an example of what you shouldn’t say.
  4. Now, come up with a better way to respond.
  5. Capture the ideas in a one-page document and disseminate to the team.

I’ve facilitated exercise myself and it’s a lot of fun. 

For example, we could imagine what would happen if the movie theater manager facilitated this exercise:

Situation/Question: “Why don’t you have any cardboard trays? They were perfect for sharing popcorn!”

Don’t say this: “I don’t know, somebody at corporate made that decision.”

Say this: “We found the trays were creating a lot of extra waste, but I can give you this small bag to make it easy to share your popcorn.”

Employees enjoy coming up with examples of what not to say. It helps them realize there are plenty of things they want to say to customers, but shouldn’t.

Participants also like working together to come up with what you should say.

A lot of great ideas come out of this activity and employees take more ownership in the results because they created the ideas themselves.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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