The Best Language for Superior Customer Service

The best language for superior, truly memorable customer service is the language your customer understands. If your reaction is “no kidding”, please give this topic another moment’s consideration. I am not speaking purely about languages like English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Swedish, Arabic, etc… I am not even speaking just about avoiding the use of slang expressions or your company’s many acronyms to ensure superior customer service.

The best language for superior customer service is language that describes your knowledge in ways that the customer can truly understand. It doesn’t matter whether you are delivering internal customer service to employees of your organization or external customer service to those that buy your products/services. If your customer doesn’t understand what you are saying, it isn’t superior customer service. I wouldn’t even call it customer service.

What does describing your knowledge in language the customer understands truly include?

Best Language for Customer Service Image By:Nancy Wombat

A. Explaining everything from the customer’s perspective and interest vs. your expert view.

B. Using online and print forms that speak to the customer not from your software system’s design. Have you seen many well designed forms — those that don’t need explanation?

C. Designing bills and other financial statements that present info a way a non-financial expert thinks. Bank statements often prominently display “average daily balance” at the end. The number I want to quickly see is ending balance not average daily balance. A hotel bill I once received at Mohonk Mountain House resort displayed the information as double entry accounting — credits/debits. My reaction was “Are you joking?”. Most non-financial people don’t think in terms of double-entry accounting and many don’t even understand double-entry accounting. The makers of Quicken financial software built their business around this simple fact.

D. Presenting website information — especially the online buying process — with words that customers understand vs. words that the finance and technology departments use.

Superior customer service requires that you communicate all your knowledge in ways the customer understands.

What other examples would you add to the list?


Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, addresses all the frontiers of communicating with diverse customers for superior customer service. Her newest training DVD Customer Service USA – What They Expect Coast to Coast & Everywhere in Between (click to preview) covers the regional differences throughout the USA and Canada to truly satisfy North American customers.

16 Responses to “The Best Language for Superior Customer Service”

  1. Kate,

    It’s amazing how difficult simplicity and functionality can be. Any fool can make something confusing but it takes real skill to lift the fog and create clarity. How simple and clear is the statement: “communicate in ways your customer understands!” It’s so simple many miss it.

    I’m affirming your concepts and tossing out this idea. It’s doesn’t add to your list. It’s another way to say it.

    Talk to them about them.

    Most of us want to talk about ourselves. Talking about ourselves isn’t customer service. Furthermore, it doesn’t create a connection because the focus is all wrong. We’ll be more effective if we TALK TO THEM ABOUT THEM. (caps for emphasis but not yelling)

    Wisdom is simple and clear. You’ve hit both criteria.

    Best,

    Leadership Freak,
    Dan Rockwell

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  3. Kate,

    Great post! I would add, to meet the customer where they are at in terms of knowledge. You don’t want to make someone feel incompetent when they are not. At the same time you don’t want to make them feel they should know about something they don’t. I work with a lot of participants in the financial industry and it’s amazing how upset they get with people that don’t know how to balance their checkbook or they do know how and just don’t do it. I am one of those. I know how to balance my checkbook, I just don’t do it. Meet the customer where they are at. Not where you are at.

    Cheers!
    Kelly

  4. Skip Bieber (a techie) says:

    Excellent post Kate!!

    As an advanced techie type, I often felt that I was struggling on that fine line(s) between “talking down” to a client/customer/caller/coworker vs condescending vs “sailing over their head” How did I overcome it? I developed the habit of always talking the same language as the customers. Even within the company! If/when i talked with co-workers, I always talked as I would with a customer – no buzz words, no slang, no techno-mumble-jumbo and NEVER company jargon. Sure my co-workers would sometimes tease me about it – But most understood why.

    At one time, I was assigned the task of conducting the new employee training classes (not just the computer/techie parts) AND I always preached to my students what I just wrote above. I would also tell them if if the above didn’t work for them to try option B – ALWAYS talk/treat the customers as they wanted to be treated! And when in doubt use option C – common sense & courtesy.

    One other thing I always preached in addition to how we talked to/with customers…. watch the tone of our voices! No edging/sarcasm, no monotonous and NEVER sleep-talking (boredom) in ones voice.

    Sidenote – One Sunday afternoon, I was in the office going over all the prep for a class starting Monday morning and the President of the company stopped in and we chatted, along the way I couldn’t resist, I asked him why I was teaching those newbie classes. He told me that the new VP of client relations was in one of my classes and she had ma

    keep up the excellent work Kate!!!!

  5. Skip Bieber (a techie) says:

    As an advanced techie type, I often felt that I was struggling on that fine line(s) between “talking down” to a client/customer/caller/coworker vs condescending vs “sailing over their head” How did I overcome it? I developed the habit of always talking the same language as the customers. Even within the company! If/when i talked with co-workers, I always talked as I would with a customer – no buzz words, no slang, no techno-mumble-jumbo and NEVER company jargon. Sure my co-workers would sometimes tease me about it – But most understood why. (and when a co-worker got on my nerves I would overwhelm them with techno talk & jargons – but never twice)

    At one time, I was assigned the task of conducting the new employee training classes (not just the computer/techie parts) AND I always preached to my students what I just wrote above. I would also tell them if if the above didn’t work for them to try option B – talk/treat the customers as they wanted to be treated! And when in doubt use option C – common sense & courtesy.

    One other thing I always preached in addition to how we talked to/with customers…. watch the tone of our voices! No edging/sarcasm, no monotonous and NEVER sleep-talking !!

    keep up the excellent work Kate!!!!

    Sidenote – One Sunday afternoon, I was in the office going over all the prep for a class starting Monday morning when the President of the company stopped in and we chatted. After awhile, I couldn’t resist – I asked him why he tasked me with teaching those newbie classes. He told me that in one of the earlier classes where I was the substitute teacher/welcome committee of 1, there were 2 VP’s – and both spoke loudly & often of me in the executive suites. I’ve never forgotten that endorsement even after some 18 years!!!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Skip, Your story about talking to the President of the company is golden. A career and a job are two different things. You focused on living your values and it showed. As a result, people noticed and you were tapped for other projects etc.. that propelled your “career” forward — not just the job you were doing at the time.
      MANY thanks for sharing that story. I hope it inspires others to always do/show your best.
      Kate

  6. Kate,

    Enjoyed this post. I can really relate since my background included supporting customers with complex computer related issues. Many times customers would call and tell me up front that they were computer illiterate. Right away I new that I had to be patient, speak slowly and communicate in terms that would be easy to understand. Other times it was not as obvious, but if you you apply the same principles with every call it will become second nature. Too often because we are so knowledgeable about a subject we can easily forget that not everyone has the knowledge and expertise that we possess.

    Best Regards,
    James

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Yes James… I call it “expert-itis” and it plagues every single human being unless each is aware. Interestingly enough, when you live outside of expert-itis you learn more too!

      Many thanks for your contribution.
      Kate

  7. I really like your first point – explaining it from the perspective of the customer. If you can’t identify where they are coming from, how and why they use your product/service, and what their knowledge level is, they won’t understand anything you tell them. The playing field needs to be leveled. This is why I coach physicians to really clarify things and use layman’s terms. Clinical terms are great for those who understand their disease state, but for a newly diagnosed patient, it all literally sounds like a foreign language. Compliance dramatically increases when the physician understands how much knowledge the patient currently has and then serves as an educator and partner in the treatment process. This concept applies to any field. I am one of those women who truly does not care how a car operates. When there is an issue, my mechanic knows this and explains it to me with analogies and I’m thrilled that I then know the concept. He knows I’m not a stupid person, but that I’m not well versed and don’t care unless there is a problem. So by identifying what I need to know and HOW I can best process the information, he taps into my world as an expert and educator.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Exactly Kristina. Simple concept — powerful results. Thanks for adding the healthcare angle to this. It is one I care a great deal about!
      Kate

  8. Greg Levin says:

    Great post, Kate.

    I agree wholeheartedly that superior customer experiences result from speaking a customer-centric language. However, to truly captivate customers and create lasting loyalty and advocacy, organizations need to also embrace customer-centric processes.

    My expertise is in the contact center/call center realm; here are some prime examples of the types of customer-centric processes and practices that are shared by world-class contact centers:

    1) They measure quality from both the company’s and the customer’s perspective. The most customer centric centers not only have invested in advanced quality monitoring tools that capture and view what the customer experiences during each transaction, they have invested in automated surveying tools that find out exactly how the customer felt about their interaction with the center’s agent.

    2) They extend quality assurance efforts to self-service applications. Most contact centers tend to monitor only those contacts that involve an interaction with one of their agents — i.e., traditional phone calls, email and chat. This common approach is not very customer-focused — not when you consider the fact that many centers today have a healthy percentage of customers completing, or at least trying to complete, self-service transactions via IVR and the Web, without agent assistance.
    Truly customer-centric centers frequently conduct comprehensive internal testing of IVR systems and Web self-service apps, as well as monitor customers’ experiences with these applications.

    3) They use technology to detect – and act on — hints of customer dissatisfaction and dissention. A number of leading contact centers are doing good things with customers’ bad words and bad moods. Using the latest speech analytics tools, these centers are able to flag words and phrases like “cancel my order,” “close my account,” the name of a competitor, or any obscenities that are directed toward the company, its products/services, or the agent handling the call. These “defection detection” tools immediately recognize the red-flag words and send an alert to a supervisor or manager, who can then listen to a digital recording of the entire agent interaction and, if necessary, call the would-be defector back for a service recovery.

    4) They capture key customer data that enhances service, sales and product improvement. It’s been said that the modern call center represents the ears of the organization—gathering dizzying amounts of customer data on a daily basis. The best centers, however, represent not just the ears but also the brains of the organization. They not only gather but also intelligently process the dizzying amounts of customer data, thus enabling the organization to continuously personalize service, enhance products, bolster revenue and build relationships.

    5) Their key performance indicators are strongly focused on the customer, not just on efficiency. The days of call centers’ obsession with quantitative measurements are over – at least for successful call centers. Today’s top contact centers understand the importance of cutting through the clutter of available stats and data to find the metrics that truly impact – and reveal key insights into — the customer experience and agent behavior. The most customer-centric organizations now focus less on things like average handle time (AHT) and number of calls handled per hour and more on key metrics like call quality and first-contact resolution (FCR).

    6) They make proactive outbound calls to new customers. Even in centers that handle only inbound contacts from customers, a little outbound activity can go a long way toward earning the trust of customers and establishing a meaningful, long-lasting relationship with them. Many highly customer-centric centers take the time to “check in” on new customers just to make sure they experience that warm fuzzy feeling with the organization early on.

    7) They ensure high levels of employee engagement. Everybody knows that happy employees result in happy customers; however, happiness is often not enough to build and sustain customer loyalty in today’s highly competitive business arena. The best contact centers know that, to truly engage customers and drive business results, the center must truly engage its agents. Agent engagement could be defined as creating a working environment where agents do not merely want to do a good job, but rather feel compelled to do a great one. It is much more than just a soft H.R. buzzword or snazzy synonym for agent satisfaction. Satisfaction, in fact, is only one component of engagement. Fully engaged employees are not only satisfied with their job, but also loyal to – and proud of — the organization for which they work, committed to its customers and its goals, and inspired to drive change in hopes of helping the organization, and themselves, to continually improve and evolve.

    Thanks again for your insight, Kate!

    Best,
    Greg Levin
    http://www.greglevin.com
    greg@greglevin.com

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Greg,
      The customer centric conversation has to extend into all mechanisms (or as you say processes) of connecting with the customer. Self-service portals, websites, chat, email, text, and the list goes on and on.
      Thanks for contributing!
      Best wishes,
      Kate

  9. Dieter says:

    I really like your first point – explaining it from the perspective of the customer. If you can’t identify where they are coming from, how and why they use your product/service, and what their knowledge level is, they won’t understand anything you tell them. The playing field needs to be leveled. This is why I coach physicians to really clarify things and use layman’s terms.

    Clinical terms are great for those who understand their disease state, but for a newly diagnosed patient, it all literally sounds like a foreign language. Compliance dramatically increases when the physician understands how much knowledge the patient currently has and then serves as an educator and partner in the treatment process.

    This concept applies to any field. I am one of those women who truly does not care how a car operates. When there is an issue, my mechanic knows this and explains it to me with analogies and I’m thrilled that I then know the concept. He knows I’m not a stupid person, but that I’m not well versed and don’t care unless there is a problem. So by identifying what I need to know and HOW I can best process the information, he taps into my world as an expert and educator.
    +1

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I applaud your mission of teaching doctors how to better communicate with patients. Patient buy-in matters in recovery and managing illness. So glad you stopped by to contribute your perspective on speaking the customer’s language.

      Warmest wishes,
      Kate

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