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Say that again?

Seven things never to say to your customers

I recently stopped at a local hardware store for a new bolt for a wheelbarrow. The only metal pin they had was too long. So, an assistant gladly volunteered to cut it down to size. As he was sawing away, one of the owners waddled past, scowled and snapped: "Doesn't he have a hacksaw at home?"

Quote�Good customer loyalty is the lifeblood of any business.�End Quote

Honesty is the best policy and you should always be truthful, but there's a difference between being truthful and being downright rude. A snarling attitude towards customers will not get you repeat custom. Good customer loyalty is the lifeblood of any business and comments like this only drive customers away.

We've all been on the receiving end of these sorts of remarks and customer service faux pas from businesses of all types and sizes, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable. We all have bad days, but that shouldn't become the customer's bad day too. Poor customer service loses business - fast. Here, based on my own stumbles down the rocky road of verbal miscues, is a sample of things that a client or customer should never, ever hear from you or your staff:


"Why are you doing that for him?" This is pretty much what the hardware store owner's flip remark meant. It may seem ludicrous to say it, but service for a customer - be it run of the mill or beyond the call of duty - should never be questioned in front of the person with the Visa card in hand. A business person that questions service like this will appear rude and entirely dismissive of customer service - a sure fire way to lose business.


"Are you sure you can afford this?" On a visit to a nearby greenhouse, a manager cajoled an employee to "make sure he knows how expensive that is" before she unraveled a roll of garden liner for me to inspect. Of course - customers need to know the price of an item prior to purchase and that information is a common courtesy, but beware of the connotations of suggesting an item is priced beyond a customer's means. This can be taken a direct insult.


"What an idiot that last guy was!" This was muttered by one grocery assistant to another as I stood ready to pay for my kids' snack. Needless to say, not every client or customer is cherubic, but commenting on them to another employee - or even worse, a customer - is grossly unprofessional. This is tantamount to 'bitchiness'. People buy from people, and prefer to buy from people they like. Nobody likes to hear another customer sneered about. It makes customers feel uneasy, as they'll think you might say that about them when they leave the shop.


"We don't have it." However succinct, this is a repeat offender, said most recently when I asked a pharmacy assistant if they carried a particular brand of toothpaste (after her four-word reply, the clerk stared past me glassy-eyed as though she were looking for ships on the horizon). Of course, businesses run out of stock or may not offer a certain service or item, but just hearing "no" or words to that effect is tantamount to adding "And stay out!" Don't leave things hanging like that.


"What a ______ name." (Choose "different," "funny," "unusual," "bizarre," etc.) Don't misunderstand me. I know I have a, shall we say, esoteric last name. But I don't adore the attention I get when a nitwit callously belittles my family moniker- belittling my very identity. It would be far more diplomatic to ask how a person's name is pronounced correctly.


"I haven't a clue about what I'm talking about, but I'll ramble on regardless." This is the Brand X version of any number of ill-conceived remarks, ranging from the bank clerk who loudly gives a customer her mutual fund recommendations ("I hear you can make money in them!") to the doctor's office receptionist who tells a patient that she may need a biopsy.


"I only work here." This clich� - most recently uttered to me by a waitress after the wrong meal was delivered for the third time - should be forever buried. In four wretched words, an employee conveys a complete absence of enthusiasm or involvement, let alone a willingness to address a problem. This does not bode well. All staff should ensure they know their own area and can politely pass a customer's query on to the right person should it fall outside their area of expertise.

Customer service tips

Keep it simple. Treat customers as you yourself would wish to be treated. Sir Richard Branson has made his living applying this ethos to markets where customer service was deemed poor

Go the extra mile. Don't make it obvious that you resent going out of your way to help customers, or they won't be back and will simply give you the kind of word of mouth you don't need. Take a quick course in customer service here

Speak well of other customers in front of staff and customers. Bad-mouthing does not create an enjoyable customer experience, so avoid at all costs or you may find yourself bad-mouthed

Listen to customers and staff feedback, suggestions and complaints. Take it all on board and action what is possible

Delegate clearly. Make certain your staff know that there's likely to be someone else available who can tackle a request that is beyond their means

Make it a policy to avoid insulting. This includes any sarcasm or commenting on the customer's 'strange' name

Make sure you offer customers alternatives to what they want if you are out of stock. You may be able to sell them an equally useful substitute. You can even sow some goodwill by referring them to other stores or competitors. Or go one step further and order new stock in early

Don't strangle your employees' eagerness to help clients and customers, but urge them to stick to topics and advice with which they're familiar. And, if they don't know something, make certain they refer customers to an employee who does

So, do you have any suggestions for this particular hall of shame? Send me feedback. But don't necessarily count on a reply. Because... I only work here.

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