Customer Experience News & Trends

5 conversation killers — and how to avoid them

Beware: If you interact with customers — in person or online — you might unknowingly kill the conversation and ruin the experience by making the following mistakes.

Some habits overtake conversations with customers. Some don’t contribute anything to conversations.

“Your relationships are formed through conversations stacked end to end,” says Dianna Booher, communication expert and CEO of Booher Research Institute. “So it pays to get rid of the mechanical things that cripple them.”

And don’t think these “killers” can just inhibit talking conversations. They’ll sneak into email, online chat, surveys and voice mail.

Here’s what to avoid:

1. Pet words and phrases

Most of us use our favorite words out of habit. On the surface, there’s not much wrong with those words, either. The problem comes when those words are overused. That’s when they start to kill a conversation.

Take this exchange for example:

Customer: I’d like to place an order.
Rep: Awesome! I can take it.
Customer: Will you be able to get it to me in two days?
Rep: Absolutely!
Customer: I’d like four pallets of Model 7X?
Rep: That’s a fantastic choice!
Customer: I know. I’ve ordered it before.
Rep: Cool!

It’s enthusiastic. And exhausting.

Avoid overusing these pet words and phrases that have lost meaning because they’re so common: Awesome. Absolutely. Sounds good. Right, right, right, right, right, right. Fabulous. Fantastic. Cool. Wow.

2. Incessant chatter

It’s one thing to open up conversations with customers beyond the business at hand to build rapport. It’s another — generally annoying — thing to talk non-stop. The problem with too much talk is that the significant information can get buried in the insignificant details.

So, yes, go ahead and have rapport-building conversations about sports, weather and pop culture. But limit yourself to more listening and less talking. Then, when you need to get down to business, use these clear-language phrases:

  • “I suggest that …”  to signal it’s time to take some action
  • “My detailed recommendation is …” makes it clear you’re outlining what will have to be done (whether it’s by you or the customer), and
  • “I have three things we need to go over …” to back up what’s been done in an orderly way.

3. TMI

In the effort to build rapport, some people have the habit of revealing too much personal information to customers and colleagues.

As a general rule, you want to avoid talking about health issues, romantic relationships, finances and family problems. While sharing on these topics may relieve some stress momentarily, they’ll make customers uncomfortable and put a strain on a productive conversation.

Similarly, you want to avoid asking customers and colleagues about personal information. Potentially shared interests — such as hobbies and sports — are safe to keep conversations going.

4. Complex words

Expertise has its merits. Customers want to know that you’re well versed in your job, company and industry. But you don’t want to use complex, unfamiliar words to show how much you know. Customers will tune out of the conversation if they don’t understand what’s being said.

You probably know to avoid company or industry jargon and acronyms, even if your customers have been around for a while. Beyond that, avoid trying to turn a phrase. You run the risk of not using it correctly and stalling a conversation while customers try to figure out exactly what you mean.

Instead, focus on clear, simple language.

5. Apathy

Whether you talk with customers on the phone, face-to-face or electronically, they can sense boredom. One-word answers and failure to try to engage at least a little screams apathy.

To avoid killing a conversation with apathy, eliminate as many distractions as you can. Stay focused on the person you’re dealing with by turning away from other screens, alerts and even colleagues. Show interest by making a point to reuse exact phrases or words customers use.

And be interesting yourself. Try to find some common ground — perhaps a similar interest or experience — and build on that to make the conversation more engaging for both of you.

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