It’s Not What You Say But How You Say It – This is a common enough expression, but can be a huge pitfall in Customer Service. Sometimes the most innocent comment can just come out wrong. If that happens to you apologize as soon as you realize that you made the mistake. Keep it light. If it is after the fact, send an "oops" letter that acknowledges your error. Other times the speaker just doesn’t “get” that how they are saying what they are saying is ‘death’ to the relationship with that customer. Here is an example of something I experienced.

It was a few years ago, some friends took Kyle and I out to dinner for my birthday. At that time I was also working as a waitress and had to work on my birthday (a Friday that year). We planned to go out to dinner on Saturday evening. We were trying a restaurant that none of us had been too. In all their advertising they said that they offered a free entrée on your birthday – but it had to be on the actual day. OK I had heard that and was prepared for it, but decided to ask just in case… I even brought my computer generated check out slip from the restaurant where I worked as evidence that I really had been working and wasn’t trying to get a second free meal :-)

I asked our waitress about the policy and if there were any exceptions. She said no. I asked to speak to the manager and explained why – that I had had to work on the actual day of my birthday. She informed me she was the owner. She then went into a tirade on how much the free meals were costing her. Wrong! First of all, there were 4 of us at my table. We had appetizers, cocktails, entrées and desserts. I’ve worked in restaurants. She could have given all of us free dinners for the profit in the cocktails we had. So getting into the cost of the promotion was a) counterproductive and b) not my problem. If the promotion really was that costly she should just stop it…

But what has kept me out of that restaurant ever since wasn’t what she said but how she said it. It was her tone. She was angry and bordering on rude. Came close to yelling at me just for asking to speak to the boss. She ranted on implying that anyone that took advantage of the promotion she offered was stealing from her! If you feel that way don’t offer the promo…. She forgot a primary rule of business – customers have choices. I have chosen not to patronize her establishment ever again, which is unfortunate because the food was good. Unfortunately she left a bad taste in my mouth.

What should have said? That she was very sorry, but that she just couldn't make exceptions because if she bent the rule for one person, word would get out and people would expect exceptions all the time. Then later, she should have quietly not charged us for one of the appetizers or one of the desserts. Some little token that says, "I do value you as a customer." She did none of these. And we've never gone back.

It’s Not What You Say But How You Say It – is even more sensitive in the electronic universe where there is no inflection in our voice – but that is a discussion for another time.

Author's Bio: 

Heidi McCarthy has been customer focused her whole life, getting a good orientation in her first job working as waitress while putting herself through college. After college she worked in the corporate arena for 8 years where she learned the ins and outs of working in a corporate culture including customer service working with and traveling to clients across North America. Next she worked with her husband in his salvage diving business where dealing with the “rich and famous” taught her much about people’s expectations. Running a consulting business she started working with Custom Training Institute. The consulting soon became a full time job, where she became the General Manager and Director of Operations. This job showed Heidi the immense need for what has become her specialty niche – customer service in the electronic universe.

Additionally, Heidi has the ability of being able to see holes in systems that on the surface look to be good and solid. And, she loves to teach – to share what she has learned .

Heidi’s passion for excellence in business caused her to found Toughest Customer, where today she helps companies grow and retain customers through improved customer service and extreme client care.