By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Magazine Editor
What not to say is just as important as what to say when working with customers. Driving home this point was Nancy Friedman, founder and president of the Telephone Doctor® Customer Service Training, of St. Louis, MO, which provides www.serviceskills.com, a 12-series, 24/7 online platform of content designed to help companies better communicate with customers. Friedman outlined several key customer service strategies during an educational session at the 2017 ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America trade show, in Las Vegas, NV.
Beginning her presentation titled, “Hell Hath No Fury Like a Customer Scorned: The Five Forbidden Phrases,” Friedman told the audience, “More business is lost due to poor service and poor treatment than poor products. The companies represented here today don’t offer poor products. It is how you treat people that counts. We like to be treated nicely.
“Furthermore, people will pay more for better service. We go downtown to a very expensive restaurant and overpay — we’ve all done that — and then we walk out and say, ‘Wasn’t the service great.’”
Friedman said when she gives a presentation, she takes however much time she needs to establish a rapport with the audience, comparing it to how much time a business has to connect with a customer during a phone call.
“When your phone rings (from a potential customer), you have less than 20 seconds to make that same great connection,” she said. “How many of you have a new-employee orientation program in place, focusing on customer service and how to receive phone calls? Let me share with you the Telephone Doctor’s ‘Five Forbidden Phrases,’ as well as positive responses to replace these phrases, helping your company receive better end results when working with customers.”
Friedman suggested that business owners should make it a practice to call their own companies, and see how their employees actually answer the phone and handle inquiries.
“Call your office and ask for yourself or for information about a service or a product. This will help you to better understand how your customers are taken care of when they make similar calls,” she said.
The first of the five forbidden phrases that Friedman outlined is, “I don’t know.”
“You could not pay the people in my office to say those three words, if your life depended on it. ‘I don’t know’ is a forbidden phrase at Telephone Doctor,” she said “You could call and ask, ‘What time is it in China?’ and they will tell you what I want you to tell your customers —‘Gee, that is a very good question. Let me check and find out.’ Because you can find out.
“Outside of sensitive financial information, there is not a thing you cannot find out. It may take you time, but you can find out. ‘I don’t know’ is direct rejection. The minute somebody hears, ‘I don’t know,’ they hear, ‘You don’t care.’ That’s how simple it is. So, ‘I don’t know’ is a forbidden phrase.”
Friedman said she and her husband started removing as much negativity as possible from their lives many years ago.
“We don’t think negatively. We don’t talk negatively, and we don’t have negative people around us anymore,” she said. “I have a lot of people running around my office saying, ‘Gee, that’s a real good question,’ and I have a lot of happy customers, and my employees have a happy boss, because I never get rejected.
“If you are an owner or a manager, how would you like to never have a negative word said to you? It can be done if you will just teach co-workers, ‘I don’t know’ is no longer part of this office. It is a ‘four-letter’ word, but they can say, ‘Gee, that is a great question, let me find out.’”
Furthermore, she said, a customer service rep can add, “By the way, when do you need this information?”
“Telephone Doctor surveys have found most customers do not need the information right away. Some do. But, most people when you ask them, ‘By the way, when do you need this information?’ they will say, ‘Tomorrow,’ or they will say, ‘I’m going on vacation’ or ‘I’m going to a local conference, I won’t be back until Monday,’” Friedman said. “The worst thing that could happen is you don’t get the information. But then, you get to say, ‘Mr. Jones, I searched. I looked. I asked. I did everything in my power to get that information, and I was not able to.’ Now, the customer knows you went the extra step. You didn’t just say, ‘I don’t know.’”
Friedman said someone once approached her and said, “I always tell people, I don’t know, but I will find out.”
“Why would you start with a negative?” Friedman asked the audience. “You will never hear a negative at the top of the conversation from a Telephone Doctor employee. That’s our mantra. We start everything with a positive.”
Friedman said if the people in her audience don’t do anything else but eliminate “I don’t know” from their corporate culture, this will still noticeably change the way they do business.
“You want to tell your employees, ‘I don’t know,’ is now a forbidden phrase, replaced by, ‘Gee, that is a very good question, let me check and find out,’ and always with a smile,” she said. “If you tell someone, ‘I don’t know’ without a smile, it is double rejection. It is, ‘I don’t care and I don’t like you.’ Add the caveat, ‘By the way, when do you need that information?’ and you will see a huge difference in your customers.”
Friedman said the second forbidden phrase, “We can’t do that,” is in memory of her father.
“When I was a little girl, I was never allowed to say a certain four-letter word. I was never allowed to say ‘I can’t,’” she said. “My dad would look at me and say, ‘Tell me you won’t. Tell me you don’t want to. Tell me you don’t have time, but don’t tell me you can’t, Nancy, because you never tried.’
“‘Oh, we can’t do that,’ is another immediate rejection. Your customers don’t like that. If they ask you something you are not able to do, say, ‘That’s a toughie. Let me check it out for you.’ Again, we’re saying we are going to try, but it is going to be tough. So, we set them up with the expectation that this may not work out. ‘We can’t do that,’ — again, direct rejection. Those are words you don’t want to say to your customers.”
Friedman told a “We can’t do that” story involving a gift shop in a hotel she visited. She took her purchase back to her room and opened it, and it was not what she thought it was going to be. She put it back into the box and returned to the gift shop.
“I walked up to the lady and said, ‘Remember me?’ She said, ‘Yes,’” Friedman recalled. “I said, ‘I opened this box and it was not what I thought, so, I would like my money back.’ She said, ‘We can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Sure you can. Just open the cash register and give me $7.45.’”
Friedman told the clerk she didn’t need the item and to keep it, and she walked out of the gift shop.
“I walked away and didn’t think another thing about it,” Friedman said. “I was checking out of the hotel the next day and the manager came running up to me and said, ‘Mrs. Friedman, I just wanted to let you know we credited your account for $7.45.’ I looked at him and said, ‘I thought you couldn’t do that?’
‘“We can’t do that,’ is not a pretty phrase, and yet it’s used over and over again.”
Friedman said the positive answer is, “Mrs. Jones, I wish we could. Unfortunately, that is not an option we have.”
“You don’t need to make an excuse,” Friedman said. “When you use the ‘wish’ statement, you are agreeing with someone. ‘We can’t do that’ is just an irritant.”
She told of another incident about buying a dress to wear for her daughter’s wedding.
“I bought a dress for my daughter’s wedding that they altered. It looked terrible on me, and I wanted my money back,” Friedman said. “The clerk looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Oh, Mrs. Friedman, I wish we could. Let me bring Maria from alterations, and we will make it look fabulous on you.’ I said, ‘OK.’
“She used the ‘wish’ statement on me, and I fell for it. So, I know the ‘wish’ statement works.”
The third forbidden phrase is, “Just a second.” Friedman said the Telephone Doctor conducted a survey asking what bothered people the most while on the phone.
“The No. 1 frustration was, ‘Hang on a second, I’ll be right back.’ That’s ‘liar, liar, pants on fire.’ Nothing takes a second,” Friedman said. “Has anybody ever received a call in your business from somebody who says, ‘Hi. My name is Bob Smith, could you please put me on hold?’ It doesn’t happen.”
Friedman said it is the way people are put on hold that is the problem. Rather than just saying, “Just a second,” the person answering the phone should say where he/she is going and how long it will take.
“Those are two pieces of information that you need to include before you put somebody on hold,” she said. “You should say, ‘Mrs. Friedman, the information you need is in another room on another computer. It is going to take me about two or three minutes. Are you able to hold while I get that information?’”
Friedman also said it’s important to inform the caller if it’s going to take too long to keep him/her on hold.
An example of how to best handle this type of situation would be: “‘Mrs. Friedman, the information you need is going to take me about 25 to 30 minutes. I do not want you to hold that long. May I have your number, so I can call you this afternoon or tomorrow? Which would be better?’” Friedman said. “‘If you are able to hold, I can get you the information,’ is a statement of fact. ‘It is going to take me about two or three minutes. I have to check another computer.’ You told me how long and where you are going.”
She also said to tell the customer, “Thank you for holding.”
“In the event that you do say, ‘Hang on for a second,’ think, ‘Oh, shoot, Nancy said not to say that,’” Friedman said. “Pick up the phone and say, ‘I apologize. I meant to say, are you able to hold.’ Just rewind. Erase that, ‘Hang on a second, I’ll be right back,’ because it shouldn’t be there.”
The fourth forbidden phrase Friedman outlined is, “You’ll have to...”
“I will not tolerate being told what I have to do,” she said. “I don’t have to do anything but die and pay taxes. That is what I have to do. We are going to tell people what they ‘need’ to do. We take orders. We don’t give them.
“When you tell somebody they ‘have’ to do something, it is a negativity we don’t need in our lives. It bothers me when people order me around — you’re going to have to do this, you’re going to have to do that. I don’t have to do those things, and neither do your customers. You want to tell people what they ‘need’ to do.”
The fifth forbidden phrase is “no” at the start of a sentence.
“We are no longer going to start any sentence with the word ‘no.’ It is as simple as that. You can say anything else, but we are no longer going to start a sentence with the word ‘no,’” Friedman said. “You tell a dog, ‘No, no, no.’ You tell a child, ‘No.’ You don’t tell your customers ‘no.’ Bottom line is, when you start a sentence with a negative, you become negative. Don’t start sentences with a ‘no.’”
She gave the example when someone asks, “Have you ever been to China?” The forbidden response would be, “no.” A better response is, “I have not.”
“‘I have not’ is grammatically correct without the word ‘no,’” Friedman said. “I’ll say it again — if you will apply and practice removing the negatives from these phrases and insert the positive alternatives, you will get immediate positive results.”
As a bonus, Friedman also shared what she calls more “killer words of customer service.”
“I’m going to share the top killer words often used in phrases — words that we are saying all day long, and you are losing business as a result,” she said. “For example, you go to a restaurant and the waiter pours your water. You look up and say, ‘Thank you,’ and the waiter says, ‘No problem.’ People don’t want to hear, ‘No problem.’ What happened to the gold standard, ‘You’re welcome?’ Watch how many times people now say, ‘No problem.’ When you catch yourself saying, ‘No problem,’ follow it with, ‘I mean, you’re welcome.’”
Another killer phrase is, “Just calm down,” Friedman said, adding, “It’s not your job to tell somebody else how to act.”
Friedman said she would also avoid saying, “I’m awfully sorry. That is our policy.”
“Company policies are written for the company, not for the customer,” Friedman said.
Rather than being confrontational, she explained, companies should focus on being more flexible, when dealing with reasonable requests that fall outside a set policy.
Visit www.serviceskills.com and www.nancyfriedman.com for more information.