Repeatable phrases are helpful for bringing consistency to customer service.
They enhance your personal replies, and make providing great customer service easier, because you have just the right phrases at your fingertips.
After all, providing great customer service means knowing just what to say and the best way to say it. But communication is hard, and it’s made harder when you’re trying to make the mundane memorable.
While the good, the bad, and the ugly of customer service gets most of the press (as with everything else), the majority of support conversations are pretty standard: "I have a problem," and "Let me fix that problem for you."
In these cases, a good experience becomes great thanks to the pleasantness of the experience. Let’s explore a few essential customer service phrases that can be used to improve nearly every support interaction.
The 9 Customer Service Phrases that Work
Make use of your "playbook" of phrases and words when it makes sense, but don't use them as a crutch. Unique replies can be crafted using a list of pre-canned phrases, but be sure to include a personal touch, too!
1. “Happy to help!”
Not every customer will tell you that they are walking away unhappy — in fact, very few will. They’ll just walk away.
To address this concern, think about "closing" a customer service conversation, in a similar vein to a sales rep. For support, closing means ensuring that the customer is satisfied. Ending your emails without a closing message can be risky, as it's not inviting the customer to share further issues.
Those are issues you sincerely want to hear about. For an outspoken person like myself, it was initially hard for me to understand why some people might just slink away without bringing up additional problems. Maybe they don't want to be a burden, or maybe they think you don't care. Whatever the reason, you need to let them know that you'd be happy to hear them out.
That's why I end 99% of my messages with, "Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you. I'm happy to help." It's my way of saying that it would be my pleasure to assist with any lingering concerns that may have cropped up, or answer any questions they may feel are “dumb.” There are no dumb questions in support.
You should avoid: Ending conversations so bluntly that the customer feels you are hurrying them out the door. Even a simple, "Are you all set?" will do.
2. "I understand how [blank] that must be."
What's with the blank?
What you use in that blank will greatly affect the tone of your message; one that is obviously being used with an upset customer.
Here's a quick personal story: I ordered a birthday gift for a friend of mine from a hobby site. Usually, I couldn't care less about whether something ships on time — I'm patient and forgetful, the perfect customer.
However, this order was botched beyond belief. I was charged for and sent two orders instead of one, it was sent to my house when I specified my friend's address, and as the cherry on top, it was sent late. The support person's response when I emailed in: “I understand how annoying that must be.”
I’m sorry, I was beyond annoyed. I was upset, and she should have known to empathize with how upsetting that must be for me. I know, I know — boo hoo. But upset customers are driven by emotion, not logic, as I was in that instance. I felt like I had let my friend down, and it made me frustrated in a situation I otherwise would have brushed off.
Use this customer service phrase often and thoughtfully — read the customer's mood and relate with how he or she feels. Great support is defined by genuine empathy.
You should avoid: Any sort of communication that remotely resembles "sucks to be you" should be avoided like the plague. If the situation is minor and the customer doesn't have a problem, referencing it as "annoying" is perfectly reasonable, though.
3. "As much as I'd love to help..."
There comes a time when the only answer is “no.” Some requests just aren’t feasible. While some hand-holding is fine, it can do more harm than good if it leads to stringing a customer along.
But imagine answering a genuinely enthusiastic request with a blunt “no.” That stings. Stay firm but kind by letting them know you'd like to help, but it’s just not possible in this situation.
One of our readers asked about using positive language when a customer makes unscalable support requests. Our suggestion:
@helpscout What's a "positive language" way to say: "I don't have time to help you with that" when a customer asks for unscalable support?— David Smith (@spivurno) January 22, 2014
@spivurno As much as I'd love to help, your request is beyond what we're able to do for customers. Follow by pointing 2 a few resources ...— Help Scout (@helpscout) January 22, 2014
@helpscout Thanks for the suggestion. HelpScout makes me want to be a better (support) person. ;)— David Smith (@spivurno) January 22, 2014
It's never fun to say, "We can't do that," but just as you have to bite the bullet and say “no” to feature requests, you sometimes have to turn down a service request. But you can at least do it nicely.
You should avoid: "To be honest with you…" It’s a phrase that is sometimes used as a defense, as in, "To be honest with you, we don't foresee that feature being implemented." I'm hesitant to use this phrasing because it makes a subtle implication that you're being honest right now. Are there times when you aren't honest? You'll also want to steer clear of corporate speak, such as "That's not our policy."
4. "Great question, I'll find that out for you!"
Not knowing the answer to a question is a difficult scenario for anyone to be in, especially if you are new.
The biggest mistake to make is turning the situation into your situation: "I'm so sorry, I'm new!" or "Sorry, I've never been asked that before!"
Instead, keep the focus on what will be done to get the answer: "Great question, let me check our documentation so I can get that answered for you.”
The only customers who will mind the small delay to get the right answer are those who weren't going to walk away happy in the first place. You should apply the principle of refocusing to other conversations as well. Whenever you're able to put the spotlight on what will be done rather than what's happened, you've made a smart move.
You should avoid: "If I recall correctly," or any other variant of "maybe,” “perhaps,” or “I'm pretty sure." Don't guess for a customer. Simply state that you're going to find out the exact answer they need, and do just that.
5. "Nice to meet you."
I can’t begin to count the number of times I've gotten in touch with a new company, only to receive a robotic response from some person replying from their email@example.com email address.
Let's take a look at how this might play out. Say a customer initiates an email conversation with you like this:
Too companies beeline for the boring response: "Quinn, for integrations we offer..." Quinn certainly wants her answer, but it's obvious from the language she is using that exchanging a few pleasantries would be welcome.
Using a friendly tone of voice goes a long way in creating real customer engagement.
You should avoid: Crickets. Silence and brusque responses are the deal-breakers here. It doesn't hurt to showcase that there are competent, friendly, and passionate people sitting at the other end of the screen.
6. "May I ask why that is?"
This is one to keep close, as critics and complainers on the web are all too common. You’ll need a way to dig deeper into their criticism without stooping to the abrasive language that they tend to use.
Consider if someone tweeted this about your company: "The way Company X handles [feature] is so damn stupid. It’s unbelievable.”
This person has Twitter malice in their heart, but you might actually be curious as to what brought them to that conclusion. Approaching this situation with care is important, because you don’t want to walk away as the bad guy.
This is where “May I ask why that is?” comes in handy. While it won’t pacify every vitriolic commenter, it always puts you in the right. Who can fault you for kindly asking for additional feedback?
You should avoid: Stooping to the critic’s level. People will complain about your product no matter how well it’s built, so just make sure your language is level-headed and professional.
7. “Thanks for bringing this to our attention / for the heads up!”
People who offer a detailed report of a bug they encountered are the unsung heroes of your product’s quality control. Most customers don’t speak up, so you should cherish those that do.
And yet, most companies come off as unappreciative when you find and flag a bug. At the very least, offer these customers your thanks by replying with a “Thanks so much for the heads up!” or preferably, “Hey, I really appreciate you taking the time to bring this to our attention!”
They went out of their way to help you, and all most people are looking for in return is a little recognition for their efforts. Show them you care.
You should avoid: Once again, silence is the killer here. Any sort of warm thank you to the customer will be heard and appreciated. Make sure it’s there in your reply.
8. “I completely understand why you’d want that."
Most customers can name at least one “missing” feature that would improve their experience with your product, but you can’t acquiesce to every feature request without your product turning into a bloated, unusable mess.
You have to say “no.” But you can at least empathize and acknowledge that people use your product in many different ways. They’ll have “odd” demands you may not be able relate to, but you should at least try to understand where they’re coming from.
Empathy always makes hearing the “no” sting a little less. And it shows customers that you understand what they’re trying to achieve — who knows, down the line you may build something that solves their problem in a way they hadn’t thought of.
You should avoid: “No, we’re not building that.” It may be true, and it’s totally fair, but it comes across as uncaring. If you can understand where the customer is coming from, you’ll be able to have a more fruitful conversation about “Why that isn’t on our roadmap for the time being.”
9. "I'd love to understand more about..."
When replying to a customer you’re actually juggling three responsibilities: answering their question, replying in a timely manner, and teasing out the root cause (if one exists). The customer only cares about the first two — whoever said juggling was easy?
But you have to identify root causes if you want use feedback to it’s full potential. Not every customer will serve up their true motivations. We’ve covered that before.
That’s why asking to “understand more” about a customer’s situation is a nice kickoff. You’re letting them know they have your ear, and that they’re free to share more of their frustrations / aspirations with your product.
You should avoid: There isn’t a specific anti-phrase here, but you should steer clear of implying that this sort of feedback is unwelcome. “Why would you want that?” you innocently ask the customer, not knowing that it feels abrasive and uninviting.
The language of customer service
Great communication is an art. Honing it to a keen edge is a science. These customer service phrases will go a long way in helping you improve on the craft in the meantime.
If four years at Help Scout have taught me anything, it’s that improving your ability to convey information in a concise, friendly style will yield better results than anything else. There are few “hacks” for talking to customers, and nothing delivers quite like consistently delightful communication.