Customer Experience News & Trends

5 communication blunders with customers

A customer goes quiet – and you wonder, Was it something I said? There’s a chance you committed a communication blunder – and don’t even know it or how to rebound from it. Here’s help. 

Even if you communicate with customers and colleagues all day, every day, you might not know some of the words, phrases and reactions that upset them.

Greg Alcorn, author of 7 Dumb Things We All Say, and CEO of Global Contact Services, recently identified these five communication blunders that sometimes happen when working with customers. We’ve included tips on how to rebound from each.

1. Book-ending badly

The bookends of a conversation – beginning and end – can damage relationships if you use the wrong words and phrasing. For instance, I gotta …  and That’s about it are poor open and close bookends.

“Bookends … can be engaging, demeaning, or distracting,” says Alcorn. “Names are great bookends. Starting a sentence with the name of the person you are talking to warms that person up.”

Better: Mary, may I look up your account? to open, and This is the help line; my name is Jack to close.

2. Using negative words

“Words you choose paint a picture for the listener,” says Alcorn. “Your words express your attitude and your personality. Keep it positive.”

One negative mistake: starting a sentence with the word no. No problem or Not an issue.

Better: I can do that or Yes or I’ll take care of it.

3. Asking poor questions

The quality of your questions leads to the quality of the answers you get. If you ask shallow questions, it will take you a long time to get the answers you need to do the job.

“Meaningful questions always stay on subject, keep a conversation moving forward, and ensure the other person feels heard and understood,” Alcorn says.

Avoid questions like these: Can I get your account number? What’s the problem?

One way to ask better questions: Bridge it to the reason you need the answer.

Better: Can you give me your account number so I can see details of your latest purchase? and Can you tell me about the issue so I can determine if it’s a mechanical or performance issue?

4. Ignoring emotions

Customers often convey how they feel – perhaps that a situation confused them, a mistake frustrated them or an unexpected bonus elated them.

Failing to acknowledge their feelings – and moving straight on to or through business – is a turnoff.

Try to make a personal communication connection by acknowledging their emotions.


  • I see where that can be confusing, and I would feel the same
  • I understand how frustrating this must be. I’ve been there and didn’t like it either, or
  • It makes my day that you’re so happy about this.

5. Stressing stress

Failing to use the right words in a stressful situation is a mistake anyone who works with customers needs to avoid.

You’re in the position to defuse volatile situations. Yet sometimes phrases that only add to the stress are said – such as Calm down and Take it easy.

Better: Alcorn suggests these phrases in stressful situations:

  • What would you like to see happen? 
  • Tell me how you’d like this to be taken care of, or
  • Let’s get to the bottom of this and get it resolved now.

“Nobody wants to say dumb things. But we all do,” Alcorn says. “The first step towards reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Then don’t say that. Say something smarter!”

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