Photo and article © Micah Solomon
The language of service recovery
When a customer contacts you to complain about your service, or needs your help in addressing a service-related breakdown – what I call “service recovery” – there is almost nothing that matters more to your ultimate success than the language that you use. For this reason, service-recovery language needs to be chosen intentionally in your business, ideally codified and immortalized in a “language lexicon” that all can refer to.
You’ll never successfully calm an upset customer without the right words and phrasing. ‘‘I’m sorry, I apologize’’ are the words, delivered sincerely, that your customer wants to hear. Phrases like ‘‘It’s our policy’’ and any synonyms for ‘‘You’re wrong’’ must be banished. (If, in fact, the customer is wrong and there is a bona fide – e.g., safety-related or legally required – reason to point this out, you need words that express this obliquely, such as ‘‘Our records seem to indicate…’’ and ‘‘Perhaps… ’’ so that she can realize her error but also save face.
Dippyness and raising customer hackles
There is a specific moment in service recovery where the language used (and the timing of when you use that language) comes most crucially into play. When a customer is looking to resolve an issue, you are often put in an exploratory position that requires you to ask rudimentary questions like:
‘‘Are you sure you, uh, typed in your password correctly?’’
I refer to these as DYPII (‘‘Did You Plug It In?’’) questions. DYPII questions (pronounced “dippy”), no matter how justified, are highly likely to raise customer hackles. If you bring up DYPII questions right away, before you’ve taken the time to sincerely apologize to the customer for a service breakdown—and before your customer has accepted your apology—they’ll almost universally be considered offensive.
But after you’ve apologized, and taken the time to help your customer develop a spirit of collaboration with you, the same questions are generally tolerated well, if you use the correct language.
Every industry has its own, often predictable, set of “DYPII” questions. Plan for them. Find new phrases to use. It makes all the difference.
In fact, the classically infuriating DYPII question, ‘‘Did you plug it in?’’ can be rendered as ‘‘Maybe the wall connection is loose. Can you do me a favor and check where it plugs into the socket?’’
By Micah Solomon – keynote speaker, customer service speaker, customer service consultant, and #1 bestselling author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://customerserviceguru.com