Karen Apicot 2007 - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It is when things go wrong that we test whatever recovery systems there are in place. Unfortunately, this critical task is most often left to our guests.   Even worse, it is often left to our front line (lowest paid) employees to respond.

Of all the dollars spent on customer experience training, perhaps the most important are those devoted to the first words that are spoken when things go wrong.

Here are a few of those phrases I have recently experienced that I would add to my “never start with” list:

  1. “That happens all the time.”  This phrase is not reassuring.  It tells the guest you already know about this problem and have done nothing to eliminate it.
  2. “Sorry about that.”  Aside from coming off a bit curt, it usually does not describe the true emotion of the person responding.  If they are sorry about anything, it is that you called.
  3. “Our policy is …”  This phrase if almost guaranteed to put off the guest.  It is telling the guest that you are not prepared to listen.

Here is a list of things I want to hear:

  1. “I apologize.”  We all know that things go wrong.  Hearing the apology starts us out on the right foot and tells the guest that you are listening.
  2. “Thank you for letting me/us know.”  This is a great way to end the interaction on a positive note.  When it is linked to an action plan, this leaves the guest feeling pretty good.
  3. “I will make sure that happens.”  There is nothing more reassuring than someone taking personal responsibility for a problem you have just encountered.  Offering the guest a name and a number to get back to if they encounter any more problems is even better.

What are the first words your guests hear?

When was the last time you tested your own system?