The 6 best words in customer service

Flickr CC image by Combust

Two comedians can tell the exact same joke, with the same timing, and one will have people rolling in the aisles while the other will get blank stares and an awkward golf clap. The joke itself may not even be funny, but the difference can come down to a single word choice. The same can be said for customer service -- the delivery often determines the reaction.

I've written quite a bit in the past about what not to do when speaking to customers. It's a virtually limitless topic that unfortunately is supported by countless daily examples. So this time I thought I'd focus on what I call "positive trigger words" -- the ones that convey the exact same messages but with completely different results.

Of course, what you do is more important than what you say. But whether it's good news, bad news, or simply passing on information, your choice of words will have a significant effect on the way the customer hears what you're saying, and consequently the way she feels about it and reacts to it.

The goal, of course, is to make the customer as happy as possible with the service experience, even if the outcome isn't exactly as she had hoped for. It is, in fact, possible for a customer to have a positive feeling about a company even if she doesn't get what she wants. And that is where words make a big difference:

- People respond positively to words that are active rather than passive. There is a world of difference between "I can" and "I will."

- Words of genuine compassion and empathy suggest that you are not just carrying the company line or reading from a memo.

- Delivering those words in a cheerful, upbeat, and most importantly, natural manner (appropriate to the circumstances, of course) suggests one human being's desire to help another, not just an equivocal, noncommittal suggestion that something "may" be possible.

Here, then, in no particular order, are six active, enthusiastic, mood-altering, wonderfully human words that will dramatically change the way customers react to your conversations, e-mails and text chats. They are ridiculously simple, yet potent tweaks to the normally gray, predictably mundane language of customer service:

"Delighted"

"Absolutely"

"Pleasure"

"Happy"

"Sorry"

"Yes"

Think of the passive catch-all, "Let me see what I can do," which sets the customer's expectations somewhere between low and zero. But change that to "I'd be delighted to help," and the customer will be -- I guarantee -- smiling on the other end of the phone, confident that you're actually interested in helping her, and much more receptive to whatever you have to say.

Note that this only works if it's genuine, not forced or scripted. It presumes a good attitude, and the desire and authority to help people. Contrived speech is always obvious, so don't over-pepper (as in the way so many reps cloyingly insert your name in every sentence). Speak as a normal person, with a smile and a wish to please, and these "good words" will work wonders.

Customers have been beaten into assuming they'll always get mediocre to horrible service, and they are defensive before anyone even answers the phone. When they call, e-mail or chat online with a company representative, they expect boilerplate, robotic, soulless responses in the standard, dehumanized voice of the typical customer service interaction. Break that predictable pattern with the thoughtful use of positive trigger words and you'll change the entire tone of a customer interaction.

As I often say, make people happy and pretty much everything else takes care of itself.

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    Michael is an entrepreneur who has launched businesses including Skooba Design and Hotdog Yoga Gear travel bag brands, as well as Journeyware Travel Outfitters. Michael sold his company in 2014 and is now focused on writing, speaking and consulting. Learn more about his ventures at www.businesswithclass.com.

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