What your customer service people should never say


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I’ve talked before about the infamous macro overuse syndrome, which can result in sending out polite but rather empty emails to customers – emails that are of no practical use to anyone. Customer service staff who take pride in their work are well aware of the dangers of relying too much on stock phrases. But what if those macros you’re using are well-considered, appropriate to the customer’s query, but just completely unhelpful? Here are the phrases that should never cross your keyboard.

These are real-life examples from the Casengo team’s own experience. Only the company names have been omitted, to protect the guilty…

1. “@customer Please contact our complaints department with your complaint.”

When I tweeted a local company explaining a problem I had with a product, I was asked to email their customer service department to get it sorted out. Why do you have Twitter then? Is it only so that people can tell you how great you are? If you get a customer complaint on social media, deal with it on social media.

It’s true that most problems take more than 140 characters to solve, which is why it’s a good idea to send a direct message asking for the client’s email address. But fobbing them off onto someone else in your company? Not a good look.

2. “…”

Enough said. If you’re an online business, we all know you’re online just about every waking second unless you’re in the shower or on the loo (and possibly even then – we don’t want to know). It used to be said that a week is a long time in politics. In the online world, an hour is a long time. Once two business days have passed without a response, you might as well have replied in all caps: “WE JUST DON’T CARE!!!”

It goes further, though. Customers get angrier about radio silence than about an unhelpful response because it takes a while for them to realise that you’re not going to get back to them. It then becomes a guessing game. ‘Did they not get my email?’ they wonder. ‘Perhaps I should call them. Or maybe it was just a stupid question.’

If you have a customer service email address or a web form for customer enquiries, respect your customers and their time by making sure you reply to all the messages you receive – and promptly.

3. “Please have a look at our FAQs.”

Have you ever been to a performance of a long-running stage show? Think of something like Wicked – the original Broadway production of the musical played for more than ten years and well over 4,000 performances. Yet for every one of those performances, the cast acted it out like they’d never done it before.

I dare say that you get asked the same question 25 times a day. But the thing is, if you want to make your customers feel welcome, you need to answer each question as if it’s the first time you’ve heard it. Okay, I realise that writing an email explaining that shipping costs are a flat fee of 7 euros to anywhere in Europe is in no way similar to belting out ‘No Good Deed’ to a rapt audience, but the principle is the same: you are playing a character. Not Elphaba in this case, but the role of the helpful customer service assistant. So do it – be helpful. Instead of copying and pasting the link to the FAQs, just copy and paste the relevant answer. You don’t have to care; you do have to act like it.

4. “Please call our customer service department.”

But I don’t want to call … that’s why I emailed you!

A variation on this response is simply phoning the customer in response to their email to you. Some companies do this all the time. I prefer to email because it’s not often convenient for me to talk on the phone. I send an email with a very simple request and, hey presto, the phone rings 5 minutes later. If I’m unable to answer it, which is often the case, I then get a message asking me to call them back. They don’t seem to realise that if I wanted to call them, I would have just done so in the first place – and yet they continue to offer web-based support.

When you deal with customers day in, day out, it can be easy to forget exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing. Especially when so many of them have requests which are either difficult to understand or downright ridiculous. But it’s vital that you don’t throw the baby – those customers or potential customers who could be converted into repeat business or a mouthpiece for your brand – out with the bathwater. You can’t always spot them up front, so you have to do your best for each and every person who contacts you.

If you offer customer service over a range of channels, be sure that you respond to your customers in the channel of their choice. Even if you feel that the customer’s query would be better handled via another channel (e.g. you need to respond to an email with a number of questions which would be better handled over the phone), you should initially respond to them in the original channel to explain that. Otherwise you risk demonstrating to the customer that you don’t really care about what’s easiest for them; you prefer to do what’s easiest for you.

So now you know what not to write, what should you actually write? Stay tuned for my forthcoming post on how to craft the perfect customer service email (in the minimum of time).


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