Customer Service: Talk the Way People Talk

I recently read a blog post advising customer service people that they should never say, “I don’t know.” The writer […]

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I recently read a blog post advising customer service people that they should never say, “I don’t know.” The writer advised that they should say, “I’m sorry; I do not have that information.” In a comment, I said that “I don’t know is perfectly acceptable, as long as you immediately say: “I will find out for you.”

Instead of telling the truth (“I don’t know”), the writer suggests that you:

  •     Apologize (for what are you sorry, I wonder)
  •     Speak a phrase that is not natural

I can hear the conversation now:

“What are we having for dinner?”

“I’m sorry; I do not have that information.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned working in many customer-facing roles over the years, it’s that people would much rather have you sound like a human than like a script. There will be times, even if your organization excels at knowledge management, that you don’t have the information necessary to answer the question the customer has posed. It’s OK! No one can know everything, and something new happening will sometimes outrun your knowledge base.

It’s not OK to say, “I don’t know,” and leave it at that. You should:

  •     Let the customer know that you will find the answer to their question
  •     Give them an estimate of how long it will take to get the answer
  •     Meet or beat the estimated time

If you cannot get the answer within the time you have asked the customer to wait, contact them back via the same channel they contacted you (phone call, chat, text, etc.) and let them know you are working on getting the answer and will give them an update within a stated time. If you promise a customer that you will call them back within 15 minutes, call them back in 12 with either the answer or an update. Exceed their expectations.

While your manner of speech or writing should not be sloppy or slangy when you are dealing with a customer, you should not sound overly formal, technical, or scripted, unless you must read a script for legal or regulatory compliance reasons. (Yes, there is an exception to every customer service rule.)

Your customers are often tense and/or frustrated when they contact support. Speaking or writing to them in a natural, human way tends to put them at ease. If you want customers to trust you, you have to develop that trust by being human and then following through on what you say you will do.

Talk the way people talk.

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