Communicate with Consideration

Proper communication is essential to successful customer service.  Unfortunately, sometimes our attempts to communicate appropriately with customers yield unintended consequences.  For example, certain words and/or phrases may seem ideal for use with customer interactions, but may actually convey the wrong message.

Take the word “can’t,” for example.  You will most likely find this word used by customer services agents when stating they ‘can’t’ fulfill a customer’s request or provide the service the customer is seeking.  The problem with “can’t” is that customers have been trained not to believe it.  When an agent states they can’t provide a service, there may in fact be a very good reason.  Many customers hear this word, however, and immediately think, “Well, if you can’t provide what I want – please connect me with someone who can.”  Customers can never be sure if you are stating that you can not perform a task because you are truly not capable, or simply not allowed.  Without good reason to think otherwise, customers will natural default to believing the latter.

This can be a tricky circumstance to avoid depending on the type of services your company provides.  When a customer is specifically asking for money in some form – refunds, discounts, free products or services – it is not always in your best interest to honor the customers request.  Your company may have completely fulfilled any obligations to the customer in good faith and yet they are still upset.  As I discuss in “Meeting the Demand – Do We Support the Culture of Complaining,” conceding to customer requests in these situations may do more long-term harm than good by training customers to complain their way to success.

Sometimes “can’t” sounds like “won’t” and since customers usually assume their needs are reasonable, “won’t” may elicit a highly emotional response from the customer.  When a customer perceives your response to their concerns as unfair or inequitable, they can quickly turn from calm and collected to angry and emotional.

More often than not, customers do not know or understand that reasons behind  our decisions, nor should we expect them to.  Logical discourse is unlikely to change their perception.  We can, however, develop guidelines around our customer service communication to help improve outcomes.

Be Honest with Customers

Instead of telling them you can’t grant their request when in reality you could, be honest and let them know that you do not consider the request reasonable.  Be prepared to site the rational behind this decision.  You may not placate the customer in this way, but at least you will be clear regarding and potentially earn respect for being forthcoming.

Focus on the Positive

Whenever possible, draw the customers attention to what you can do for them and away from what you cannot.  Approach each interaction under the assumption that the customer wants the best possible outcome for themselves, but is also a reasonable individual who recognizes and respects potential business limitations.

Escalate with Caution

Escalation of customers to a supervisor or manager is certainly necessary at times, however, it has the unfortunate side effect of enforcing the perception that customer service representatives are simple middle men with no real power to act on behalf of the customer.  If possible, place the customer or hold or arrange to call them back, speak to the manager, and then deliver the message yourself.


Communication is one of the most difficult and yet crucial aspects of serving customers.  How are you communicating?  Leave a comment below!



About davidbernst

Hello! My name is David Ernst and you've reached my blog. I've spent my professional career as a teacher, customer service supervisor, and pediatric office manager.
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