The Right Words Can Work Like Magic

Differentiating your organization’s service from that of your competitors can take many forms. Sometimes it takes a complete overhaul of your business model, such as transitioning from a strictly bricks-and-mortar approach to a strictly digital approach, or a hybrid of the two. Executing this kind of differentiation strategy is a huge undertaking, and a pretty expensive one, too.

Fortunately, differentiation can also take a much simpler form. Sometimes, just the words we use can go a long way in building strong customer relationships, and differentiate your organization from the competition. Words are important.

My wife and I are in the process of having our pool resurfaced. We asked for recommendations from neighbors and settled on a company. When we met with the company representative, Mark, there was an instant rapport. The rapport building was subtle, not forced. From his initial greeting to his farewell when we wrapped up, Mark validated our choice of his company.

As we settled on the particular pool finish we wanted (the number of choices is amazing), my wife and I found the process to be calming – not overwhelming at all. I realize now that Mark’s choice of words was at the heart of the calm.

During our conversation I mentioned my work as a customer service speaker and consultant, and Mark shared some of his background. He used to be a pool builder before going to work with the pool resurfacing company. His new boss told him that he was great at building pools, but wanted him to be better at building customer relationships, starting with the first words he’d say to a customer.

“My new boss told me that when I stepped into the customer’s house, to say something like, ‘Thank you for inviting me into your home.’ And that’s exactly what I said when I met you. And you’ll hear me say it again when I leave. It shows respect and appreciation.” And he was right.

Hearing him describe this hello/goodbye approach might have sounded like a scripted approach. But it didn’t come across as scripted; it came across as genuine. Besides, I never would have known it was “scripted” if we hadn't had the customer service conversation. But I realized his words put me at ease without even knowing why.

Other subtle word choices put us at ease as we worked with Mark. When he first examined our pool, he complimented its construction, saying that the pool builders really knew what they were doing. And while our home’s previous owners installed the pool, for some reason I felt like I had something to do with it, which I didn’t.

Yes, Mark was selling us something, but because of his words and genuine approach, at no time did we feel manipulated. We felt comfortable. And the fact that the price of the resurfacing was much less than I thought it would be, I definitely didn’t feel manipulated. No wonder our friends and neighbors recommended the company.

Other examples of words making a difference:

  • After a car repair that required disconnecting the battery, the technician told me that he was pretty sure he had reset my radio preferences, but to take a quick look to make sure. His words subtly told me that he had paid attention to this small detail, and that he respected my time.
  • Boarding a Southwest Airlines flight, the gate agent thanked every customer by name by reading the name off the boarding and making eye contact with the passenger as she used the name. Her words communicated appreciation.
  • Heading to the airport, I got into a cab prepared for the typical uncaring, impersonal experience. This particular cab driver immediately demonstrated care by simply asking, “What time is your flight?” After telling him my flight time, he put me further at ease by saying, “Great. We’ll be there in plenty of time.”
  • A helpdesk representative asked, “Do you mind if I put you on hold for just a moment? I promise I’ll be right back,” versus the typical, “Hold please.” Click.

Each of these examples might seem basic, or simply common courtesy. But we all know that there’s a huge lack of common courtesy out there. The words used in these examples demonstrate an understanding that the company and the employee are there for us. Their words show they understand that they’re not doing us a favor; we’re doing them a favor by giving them our business (and our money). Their words demonstrate care, appreciation, and respect.

Here are some questions that can help you and your organization choose words that build strong customer relationships:

  • What words or phrases would immediately let our customers know that we appreciate them?
  • What words or phrases would put customers at ease and build their confidence in us?
  • What words or phrases would demonstrate respect for the customer?