Successful communication with your customers is a critical part of your business, but it’s also a really complex skill.

The relationship dynamic that exists between a business and customer is so unique that even if you’re a conversation extraordinaire and everybody’s favourite dinner party guest, only about 20% of those skills are transferable to the client context.

We’ve done some research and found 6 really common phrases that about 90% of you will have used (we’re guilty of a few!) without realising the potential damage. Below is what not to say, along with a suggestion of what you should be saying instead.

“There seems to have been a miscommunication”

Although this is meant to be polite, the sub-text is aggressive. You’re putting the blame on your client and the passive way you’re doing it is going to make them feel frustrated and isolated.

This is what the client hears: ‘one of us made a mistake and it wasn’t me.’

Rather say: ‘My apologies, I must not have communicated properly’ or ‘Sorry, let me try to explain that a bit better”

They’ll still be aware that they’ve misunderstood, but in a way that makes it look like you’re trying to help, not shift the blame.

Woman on the phone

“I’ll look into it”

This is too vague and unsatisfactory, it sounds like an empty promise (and, let’s face it, it very often is). You need to provide a clear time frame and, if possible, a clear plan of action.

Making the customer feel safe is something you should be on a constant mission to do.

Rather say: “I’ll look into it and get back to you with an answer before 11:30am tomorrow. Is that okay?”

“Yes, but”

Sometimes it’s necessary to disagree with your client, however, ‘yes, but’ is not the way to do it. It makes the client feel that you’re not listening.

If you totally agree, you wouldn’t say ‘but’ and if you disagree you wouldn’t say ‘yes’ so by combining the two you give your client the sense that you’re not making an effort – and this is a catalyst for rage.

Relationship psychologists say it’s more effective to treat the two statements as separates. You can acknowledge with the point they’re making (the ‘yes’) and then frame your argument (the ‘but’) as a completely separate point.

Instead Say: “I completely understand why you’d like to have X. That’s a valid concern.”

<Wait for them to reiterate/elaborate/respond>

“The reason that’s not possible at the moment is Y, but would it help if we did Z?”

Try to leave words like ‘but’ and ‘however’ out of the conversation completely. People tend to shut down as soon as they hear them.

a woman shrugging

“I Don’t Know. You Need to Speak to Person X / Department Y”

American Express ran a survey that asked customers which common customer service phrases annoyed them most – this was the winner.

People hate being palmed off to another team member or department.

This doesn’t mean you need to know every answer, you just need to be willing to help them find out.

Say instead: “I’m actually not 100% sure on that, I’ll ask Mandy, our head of X, and get back to you with the answer by 15:00.”

“We’ll put our best team on your project.”

It sounds nice, but it implies the rest of your company is the B-team, and you don’t want that.

Say Instead:  “Mandy, Jessica, Kelvin and Andy will be heading up this project” and leave it at that.

vector drawing of the word sorry

“I’m sorry”

It’s good to apologise when you’re in the wrong, but don’t leave it at ‘I’m sorry’. Following an apology with a clear description of how you’re going to fix it can actually turn a bad situation into a positive trust builder.

Say Instead: “I’m very sorry that happened, we’re going to fix it by doing X today and Z tomorrow. We’ve already done Y, and, to ensure it never happens again, we’ll be implementing ABC. “

Building and maintaining your customer relationships is a complex process that’s rooted in language. By thinking critically about the words and phrases you use with your clients you boost your chances of mutual satisfaction and a long and successful customer relationship.

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About Anika

Anika is our digital marketing creative and social media guru, with a passion for everything design and user experience optimisation. She's passionate about strategising new campaigns and utilising her knowledge of the psychology behind the consumer’s journey.

Outside the office she spends most of her time outdoors or trying to be the ultimate master chef.

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