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Common Phrases to Avoid When Dealing with Everyday Customers and Potential Clients

A Scientific Approach to Effective Communication and Quality Relationships

Matt Wujciak


I mentioned an insightful study in one of my recent CCW articles that I think is worth reiterating, if you’re interested in which skills will be in high-demand in the coming years. In HR Executive, the IBM Institute for Business Value recently surveyed approximately 5,670 executives across 48 countries to learn more about the skills needed to execute business strategies. According to the research, technical and digital skills (hard skills like data engineering) are still in high demand (and that’s not changing anytime soon), but executives are starting to place the highest priority on behavioral skills (or soft skills like emotional intelligence or effective communication). This may be problematic as Gen Z, the digital (Instagram, Uber Eats, Fortnite addicted) generation that possesses these skills the least of any other generation, enter the workforce, but that’s a discussion for another day.  

Read More: Bias Becoming Latest Trend In AI

So why are 5,670 executives across 48 countries placing a higher value in soft skills? Aren’t technology trends becoming more important in, I don’t know, every single industry across the globe? Exactly. As AI and machine learning will be handling more tasks and aiding reps/agents across a number of industries (specifically customer service), data inserted into automated algorithms will be maintained and managed rather than meticulously aggregated. 

Once a company builds software (a chatbot, virtual assistant, customer targeting system, anything to gain consumer insight) and gives leaders actionable intelligence, the emphasis will then be on strategy and execution. As human error in tedious tasks and manual labor decreases over time, soft skills like communicating with team members, emotional intelligence, or personalizing client relationships will be in higher demand. So, in a way, technology will actually be increasing the importance of human interaction - especially as less people have it when Gen Z enters the workforce and baby boomers kindly exit. Regardless of which generation certain workers are in, customer service, sales, marketing, financial, and business development reps alike will all be evaluated on soft skills, such as their ability to face clients, for example. So why not do it right? 

Speak as an individual, not as part of a company

There’s a common misconception when it comes to talking to clients. Many companies teach their employees to refer to themselves as “we” when closing deals or answering customer service inquiries. The Harvard Business Review conducted a controlled study on the topic, where company representatives who referred to themselves in the singular voice (I, me, my, etc.) were perceived to be acting and feeling more on behalf of customers than those who adopted less personal plural pronouns (we or our). For example, “How can I help you?” outperforms “How can we help you?” “For one company, an analysis of over a thousand email interactions with customers found that switching to first person singular pronouns could lead to a potential sales increase of over 7%.” Consumers want to work with a human being who personalizes interactions and takes responsibility for handling problems, not a corporate puppet that hides behind company name and policy. 

Personalization and confidence over policy

According to a recent CCW special report, customer contact leaders identify personal connections as the #1 sign of customer centricity. Researchers Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman collected data from MBA students, couples in therapy, caregivers, and brain scans, and published their groundbreaking research in Words Can Change Your Brain. They too found that using and hearing positive words and personalization physiologically alter how we see reality.

In a world where consumers have more purchasing power than ever, 95% of customers have abandoned a business or complained about it to others because of a negative customer experience. Adding positive personalization to your interactions can combat that stat. Senior Vice President, Customer Identity and Risk Solution at Neustar, Robert McKay, said it best in our CCW special report. “In a perfect world, brands treat their customers like old friends. Doing so means knowing who they are upfront and being able to trust them when they interact with you.” 

Read More: 3 Soft Skills That Will Be In High Demand In the Future

When interactions go awry, many employees often times revert to company policy, or transferring customers to colleagues like a game of hot potato. According to Podia CMO Len Markidan regarding a recent survey that asked respondents which common customer service phrases annoyed them most, the result was “we’re unable to answer your question. Please call x to speak to y.” What they should be saying is, “I wasn’t able to find a solution for your problem right now, but I’d be happy to find out for you.” Taking responsibility, establishing ownership of a problem, and personalizing a positive customer relationship enhances the overall experience, and in turn, builds brand loyalty.   

Mimic the customer

People who mimic the language of the person they’re interacting with are trusted and liked more. According to a study in the University of Chicago Press Journals, mimicry is a key performance indicator in relating to other people and creating quality consumer experiences. For example, a customer in a restaurant might ask a server “Will my food be ready within the next 20 minutes?” The server is more likely to get a better reaction from the customer, as well as deliver a better perceived experience if he or she says “Yes, your food will be ready in about minutes,” rather than “Yes, it’s being prepared” or “Yes, we put in the order.” 

Harmony between employee and consumer can also be built by asking employees to imagine the customer as a similar person to themselves (like shared background or personal interests), even when they may be thousands of miles apart. When an employee creates affiliation with the customer through these linguistic strategies, they’re not only more deliberate and effective in delivering quality experiences, but they are using the lost art of communication to create meaningful relationships.