Written by Kathy Fauble, Professional Education Services Director

Some words can really set you on edge and when those words are said by a customer service representative, it can make your head spin. Recently, I was making a hotel reservation online. I was looking for a room for several different dates and in the process made a reservation for the wrong arrival date. I realized my mistake and called the hotel immediately to ask them to change the reservation to the next night. “We can’t do that,” I was told. “It’s our policy not to make any changes within 24 hours.”

“It’s our policy.” Nothing takes the customer or the service out of customer service faster than those words. What’s worse, in a contentious conversation it can actually escalate the situation faster than anything you say. If you google customer service statements not to say, it lands at #1.

Have you ever caught yourself saying those words to a patient or family member? I can bet it wasn’t well received. Saying “it’s our policy” is basically telling someone they are wrong and that you are not going to offer any help. Even if it is your policy, focus on the person you are talking to, your customer, and use support phrases that are calming and proactive. If you say, “let me see what I can do about that,” you show an interest in the person and their problem. Even if you can’t solve the problem, they will be more understanding and less likely to be angry with you.

What’s the second most hated customer service phrase? “There’s nothing I can do about that.” I can feel my blood pressure rise just typing those words! It’s much better to let your customers know you are there to work together and  you will be proactive in trying to find an answer. Your customers recognize these negative phrases for what they are: excuses not to help. Here are some other dreaded phrases that are going to make everyone’s day worse instead of better:

  • “I’m sorry, but we are a little busy right now.” That attitude can only end badly.
  • “It’s (fill in the blank: lab, doctor, billing, etc) fault!” Passing the blame never works.
  • “We can’t do that.” Can’t = won’t. Flip it around and let people know what you can do.
  • “You’ll have to…..” No one likes to be told what they need to do.
  • “Calm down!” Has any one in the history of the world “calmed down” when told to do so?

Phrases that Make an Impact

There are so many excellent customer service phrases to use that reframe the entire conversation and build trust. The focus here is on empathy and showing how their problem is important to you.

  • “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We appreciate that.”
  • “I completely understand your situation.”
  • “That would upset me, too.”
  • “Could you please tell me more about that?”
  • “Feel free to correct me if I have misunderstood something.”
  • “Here’s what I can offer you instead.”

Back to my little story. My emotional intelligence was running pretty low by the time I was transferred to a woman who said, “I understand your problem and I will be happy to help you.”  Within a matter of minutes my wrong date was changed, and I had an updated reservation. With just those few word,s my whole attitude improved, and I deleted my critical google review.

This week as you think about customer service and the link to the patient experience, take a look at the phrases you and the team you are leading are using when your customers have a problem. Do they reflect your standards of behavior? Do you talk about how to communicate in a way that is consistently helpful, professional, and consistent?

My high school literature teacher died recently. She was an excellent teacher and make a huge impact on me. She loved Mark Twain and would often say his famous quote, “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” The words you use can make a lasting impression on the people you care for.  Choose wisely!