Sorry? Please? Thank you? What words get on your customers nerves???

(20 /11 /2014)

Communication – not just what you say but how you say – is vitally important in pretty much every aspect of everyday life but it is especially important in running a successful business.  I recently read an article (see the link below) that highlighted some interesting research into communication from the customer’s perspective and the impact various words and tones have on customer satisfaction.  I have to say, I was rather surprised with some of what the research revealed and as the founder of my own start-up, I thought it would be useful to pass on to others in the start-up space.

Three polite and courteous words which are used quite regularly in any business – please, thank you and sorry – are, surprisingly, also the three words that seem grate on a customers’ nerves.  It seems that the overuse of these three words, particularly “sorry”, indicates to a customer that a problem won’t be solved.  Customer anger is triggered, the staff member continues to say “sorry” thinking an apology is what the customer wants, the situation escalates and before you know, a screaming match ensures, the manager is called and customer satisfaction is at an all-time low which ultimately has a negative impact on repeat business and bad word-of-mouth.  According to the article, staff need to understand the importance of word choice, what makes customers happy and the triggers that upset them.  In a situation such as this, it is recommended that “sorry” is used no more than two times and the staff member does everything possible to understand the customer’s issue and rectify it.

The tone of the spoken word is also critical. While it is hard to demonstrate in a written article, how you say something can have a massive impact on how what you’ve said is received.  For example, saying “can I help you” in a friendly, polite manner with eye contact indicates to a customer that you are interested in them and are prepared to help in any way you can.  Saying the same phrase in a bored, disinterested manner while looking at your watch, indicates the exact opposite and customer satisfaction with the service will obviously be much lower.

Tone is much harder to “hear” in written communication, yet the research indicates that customers prefer the use of “cheers”, “yours sincerely” and “best regards” over “best wishes”.  There doesn’t seem to be any reason why but perhaps the former three terms seem more personable or friendly while “best wishes” is not considered genuine.  The article also spoke about communication received via the web form as opposed to email – if you receive a long response from an online feedback form it is more likely to be a long-winded rant that is sent in the heat of the moment.  Email communication is more likely to be useful feedback probably because the customer has had time to draft a more considered response before sending it after a period of reflection.  Either way, your return response must still be considered, use the “right” words and be written in a helpful and polite manner to ensure a high level of customer satisfaction.

So, in my opinion this article really highlights two key points – firstly, it really isn’t just what you say, but how you say it and you need to ensure your staff are aware of what works and what doesn’t; and secondly, the small details such as how you sign off an email, are vitally important to customer satisfaction.  By getting your message and its delivery “right” and you’ll be rewarded with more satisfied and loyal customers and ultimately, a successful business.


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