Saturday, July 01, 2006

One of my pet peeves

We all have little things that drive us nuts. Here's one of mine - the phrase "You'll have to."

Yesterday I walked into a store, politely asked for help, and was told, "You'll have to wait for one of our technicians to be free." I didn't mind the wait, but it got me thinking how often we hear that statement in public - and how abrasive it is to hear as a customer. (Excuse me, but I don't "have to" do anything, especially for a stranger!)

Most of us probably don't say "you'll have to" out of rudeness. We say it because we are trying to protect ourselves, or set expectations with a customer. But when you examine the meaning of this statement literally, you can see where it breeds a lot of customer resentment right off the bat:

-It tells another person what to do.
-It implies that you have the power in this transaction, not them.
-It doesn't give the customer options.

The irony is that, just by changing a few words, you can turn a curt brushoff into a great customer experience. Let's try a few examples:

Before: You'll have to fill out this form.
After: I'd like to get a little information from you so we can help you better.

Before: You'll have to wait for a technician.
After: I'll have someone out to help you in just a few minutes.

Before: You'll have to wait in line.
After: We're helping people in order in that line, and it shouldn't be more than a short wait.

Perhaps the best example of an alternative to "you'll have to" came when I tried to go to a sold-out Philadelphia Phillies baseball game last year, while I was passing through town. Instead of saying the obvious "We're sold out - you'll have to come back another time," the ticket clerk said, "We'd love to have you see the game. Even though we're sold out, here's what I'd suggest - if you'd like, feel free to check at each of our gates to see if there are any extra tickets. Good luck!"

As it turned out, there were no tickets at any of the gates and I eventually left empty-handed - but every person I dealt with at the ballpark was so polite, upbeat and helpful that it was still a great customer experience. I'll bet you anything that these people were trained about what to say to fans, and it works!

So look critically at times where you are tempted to say "you'll have to" to customers, and start rehearsing new responses that speak to your customers' interests. The difference will be amazing!


The Great Customer Connections author tour starts in a few weeks, in cooperation with the delighful folks at Borders Book Stores. The first stops are close to home in my native upstate New York, on August 7 in beautiful Saratoga Springs, August 31 in Ithaca, and September 7 in Syracuse.

These free lecture and book signing events will feature a one-hour workshop that will show you some real, actionable ways to change your communications skills with customers - and you'll have a lot of fun in the process! More dates and areas are coming in the future, so if you'd like me to come to your city, drop me a line at Hope to meet a lot of you over the next few months!

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