Things Your Callers Never Want to Hear

By Nancy Friedman , The Telephone Doctor

Customer service plays such an important role in business today – no one will ever argue that. What they will argue about, though, is how companies treat customers and how their staff communicates with them. Believe me, some of the horror stories that I hear – let alone what happens to me personally – are beyond anyone’s imagination.

Let’s start with things customers never want to hear. Over the years, Telephone Doctor has created a list of things that your customers never, ever want to hear. These phrases (along with many others, I’m sure) are guaranteed to turn callers off and rush them to the competition. And yet, callers hear these phrases day after day, time and again.

While I’m not able to share them all in this article, I will tell you the worst one. It is the simple three-word phrase, “I don’t know.”  That’s it. It looks harmless, doesn’t it?  Yet it drives callers up the wall. To ask a simple question and get a bland, “I don’t know” is inexcusable.

I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, Nancy, but I’m new. And I really don’t know. What do I say instead?”

Being new does not give you the right to be bland. Use our positive alternatives instead. “I don’t know” sounds like “I don’t care” to the customer. (Yes, it does!)  Positive alternatives are readily available. And in this case, it’s a simple one.

Let’s say you’ve been asked something about a product and you have no idea what the caller is talking about. The problem is that someone has asked you something you don’t have the answer to. (And trust me, it will happen to everyone at one time or another. We simply blank out. It’s not an age thing. It can happen at 23, 33, 63, or 103. We just lose it.)

The solution is to stop before you answer. Think. Then use Telephone Doctor’s positive alternative: “Gee, Mr. Caller, that’s a very good question; let me check and find out for you.” Because you can find out. There’s very little that you aren’t able to find for someone. It may not be right away; that’s true. But we also have found that most questions don’t need an answer as soon immediately. So be sure to also ask, “And, Mr. Caller, when did you need that information?”

That’s it. Easy, isn’t it?  And yet every day, millions of people are saying, “I don’t know” to their callers instead. How sad. How unfortunate. How rude!  “I don’t know” is total rejection. You might as well flat-out say that you don’t care. Because that’s what the caller hears.

Now, I did have one lady come up to me and tell me she always tells the customer, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

You can use that, of course, but those of us in the training area know that “but” is the big eraser word. It erases everything you say afterwards. Besides, at Telephone Doctor, we prefer to start our sentences in the positive rather than the negative.

So, now you are aware that “I don’t know” is a forbidden phase. Catch yourself when you say it and use Telephone Doctor’s positive alternative. “Gee, Mr. Customer, that’s a great question; let me check and find out. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Customer, when did you need that information?”

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor, a customer service training company in St. Louis, MO.

[From Connection Magazine December 2006]

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