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Choose Your Words Wisely

Posted on 04/26/2013 by Ann Ashley

Customer, client, patron, consumer…no matter what you call them, these folks keep us employed.  They pay our bills, challenge us to create new and better products, and demand that we meet their ever-changing needs.  Without them, our organization fails.  They are, in fact, the lifeblood of what we do every day.

That’s a lot of power this group is holding in their hands (and wallets) – enough to make you think twice about how you and your team treat them.  Start by considering the name you attach to this significant group of people.  Many organizations are trending toward taking the sometimes cold, unfriendly term, “customer” out of their vocabulary, and replacing it with a word that better represents the relationship between client and business.  Biltmore (and many other organizations) refers to our customers as “guests.”  After all, George Vanderbilt welcomed his personal guests onto Biltmore Estate over a century ago, and we continue to welcome our guests still today.   The word, itself, stirs feelings of welcome, warmth, and hospitality - things that almost all organizations, regardless of industry, want their customers to associate with them in a sometimes aloof business climate. 

Consider other terms and phrases you use that should be replaced with friendlier and more professional vocabulary.  Be sure to train your staff on these three “Best of the Worst” phrases, and how to confidently restate them:

“Sorry, but we don’t have that.”.  Ouch!  That’s another way of saying, “Please take your business to our competitor.”  While it may be inevitable that a guest requests a product or service you do not offer, there are alternative ways of relaying that information that will keep their business under your roof.  Train your team to retain those guests by saying, “Let me tell you about a similar service we offer that’s even more comprehensive…”

 I’m sorry, but that’s against company policy.”  While company policies are necessary for various reasons, a guest doesn’t care about standard policy and procedure when their needs are not being met.  Again, train your staff to put a positive spin on this interaction by focusing on what is allowed, and what they can offer the guest that goes beyond what is required.  While a refund may be against policy, your employee can often satisfy a disgruntled guest with, “I’d be happy to order you a replacement and, until then, would you please accept this gift card (or other small token) in appreciation of your patronage?”

“That’s not my job/department/responsibility.”  Who can’t identify with this situation?  You have a legitimate question or concern that is evaded by a total shift in blame.  Regardless of their position or department, each of your employees represents your entire organization to the guests they interact with.  Of course, the more appropriate response would be, “I’m not sure, but let me find someone who can answer that question for you.”  Remember – your guests will make judgments about your entire business based on the interaction they have with any one of your employees.  Be sure your team knows the impact phrases like this can have on your bottom line.


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