By Gale Mote / Guest Editorial

I really do try to be a good customer. I’m usually patient waiting in long lines, using the time to catch up on my emails. I have empathy when people trying to help me are in training and may not be as efficient; been there, done that.

I respect that some situations are completely out of the representative’s control, like when weather cancels a flight. There is no reason to take it out on the person trying to help get you re-booked; keep your attitude positive and in perspective.

What I really struggle with is indifference, negativity and not taking ownership. It seems so simple and yet many who deal with the public forget that the right attitude and the right words at the right time can turn a disappointed guest back into a loyal customer.

Remember, the customer is still the customer. They may not always be right and they still have choices. They want the situation resolved promptly and to their satisfaction.

Whether you interact with external customers or internal colleagues from another department, here are some words that guests hate to hear and how you might respond to maintain positive and respected relationships. With all of these, it is important to be sincere, genuine and show you care. Customers can read a phony in a heartbeat.

“No, I can’t:” Really? Rather, show empathy. “I’m so sorry. I can see how disappointing this is for you.” Remember, an apology is not an admission of guilt. It is simply showing you genuinely care that your customer is unhappy.

Next, focus on what you can do, not want you can’t. Please don’t bother with excuses or airing your dirty company laundry (we just installed a new computer system, we’re understaffed) in front of customers. It’s not their problem. Simply focus on solutions and positive next steps. “Let me see what I can do to make this right for you. Here are some options.”

“It’s our policy:” Good grief. Customers get angry when you surprise them with a policy they were not aware of or when you rub the rules in their face. It is much better to state the reason for the policy first and then gently remind the customer of the expectations. “To ensure your product reaches you in a safe and timely manner, I need to ask you to complete this form.” “As you might expect, identify fraud is a challenge for all of us. To ensure your records are secured, I need you to read this and sign.”

“There’s nothing I can do:” Arghh. I remember listening to a video about Southwest Airlines and their extraordinary customer service. The ticket agent personally ran a customer’s bag the equivalent of five city blocks to ensure it made the next flight. What were her words to the panicked customer? “If it can be done, I’ll do it.” Wow, that’s so much better than there is nothing I can do.

“You have to:” What? There are only a few things you and I have to do, such as pay taxes. Customers don’t react well to threats and commands. “It works best if,” “It would be so helpful if,” “The fastest way to get that done is,” “The best way to handle that is.” All of these options respectfully involve the customer in helping you help them. Use them.

“I want to speak to your manager:” Ok, this is something the customer says that may be irritating to the employee trying to help. When you hear this from an angry or frustrated guest, try responding with “Certainly. I would be happy to connect you with my manager. Would you please give me the opportunity to help you resolve the situation first?” If they say no, then go get your manager.

“No problem:” Wait a minute, servicing me is a problem? Taking care of my needs is an inconvenience? Be careful of using common slang. The Ritz Carlton has it right; we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. When a customer asks for something, respond with “It would be my pleasure” or “I’m happy to help you with that,” not “No problem.”

“It’s not my job” or “This isn’t my department;” customers really dislike it when you pass the buck. I personally love this power phrase “Let me take responsibility for this.” Remember, customers don’t distinguish departments, management levels or floors. To the customer, you are all the same company.

“See you:” Maybe. When you end an interaction with a customer, be positive and professional. “Thank you for your business. I look forward to the opportunity to serve you again” is so much more memorable.

Most importantly, when you have a disappointed customer who feels he has been wronged, the best thing you can do is breathe, stay calm, take it as a challenge and listen without interruption. Think of the word L.A.S.T. (Listen, Apologize, Solve and Thank). Saying the right words at the right time for the right reasons will help to resolve the customer situation in a positive way and make you feel great about yourself. You made a difference and it shows.


Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at