Watching our Words!

Last month I wrote a series of blogs on dealing with unhappy customers and their complaints.  This week, I was one.  And I made one. See how I discovered how we need to watch our words when dealing with customers.

Perhaps it was because I had just come from the “happiest place on earth”—Disney World—that the inappropriate service of a cashier in a major department store chain so irked me. Perhaps I was especially impatient with her because I was tired, having spent the last 14 hours on my feet.  Perhaps the clerk’s demeanor with me wasn’t really worse than ordinary, but simply paled in comparison to the extraordinary customer service for which Disney resorts and attractions are world famous.  But does any of that matter?  The point is that in the real world, customers do come into our places of business tired, or impatient, or comparing us to other service stores and industries.  The point is, their realities are the realities we must deal with, if we want to be successful in customer relations.

The clerk in question made an error in ringing up our purchases, but that was not the issue at all.  Instead, she made three customer service mistakes in how she talked with me.  Here’s what happened—you be the judge:Watching our Words

My family went into a large convenience department store late at night to purchase two
things:  prune juice for one of the children, and bagels and cream cheese for a quick breakfast the next morning. The clerk scanned the prune juice and said, with a smile on her face, “Oh, somebody’s having digestive issues.”  Next, she took the bagels, scanned them, and said, still smiling, “If you wouldn’t eat this, you wouldn’t need the prune juice.”  When my child piped up and said, “Those bagels are for me,” the clerk replied, “Well, tell your parents not to feed you all that glucose.  It’s not good for you.” 

When we got to the car, another of my children discovered that the same clerk had overcharged her by thirteen dollars.  We went back in and had to wait a moment while she chit chatted with a customer whose purchases had already been rung up.   When my daughter, who was not at all angry about the mistake, showed her the receipt, the clerk said, “Well, I can’t do anything about that.  Take it to customer service, if there’s any one over there this late at night.”

Did you spot the issues?  Let’s review a few rules and list the mistakes:  

  1. Make Friendly Conversation, But Don’t Get Intrusive: The prune juice comment was too personal and somewhat vulgar.  Criticizing my parenting choices was just bad etiquette.
  2. When a Customer Buys Something from You, Thank, Don’t Correct them:  Disapproving of my purchase was inappropriate.   Remember that you don’t know a customer’s background or what his or her “trigger point” might be.   The bagel comment was ironic:  I had been on a carbohydrate-restrictive regimen for months.  That bagel would be my first bread in all that time.  Making a customer feel guilty for breaking a diet should never be customer service employee’s goal—and would not have happened if she’d simply said, “thank you.”
  1. Apologize For Mistakes, and Correct the Error: All of the above would have been okay with me, really, if the clerk had simply said, “I’m so sorry that happened; if you’ll go over to customer service I’ll be sure someone takes care of you right away.”  But she didn’t.  She did not say she was sorry, did not offer help, and left me to my own devices.  And so, I formally complained to her boss when I got to the customer service desk—something I rarely do.

Watch your words, friends.  They really do make a difference in customer service.

Challenge:  Am I doing or saying anything which seems friendly or harmless to me, which might be misconstrued as insulting or uncaring to my clients?  What changes can I make in my words and actions to justify my actions and be more effective with clients?

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