A Rose By Any Other Name… Agent Word Choices

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Published:  July 13, 2017

When coaching with our agents, we have many important skills to focus on such as listening, use of empathy, following correct procedures and engaging with our customers. One skill that can be overlooked is word choice, in other words the words and phrases that an agent uses either in writing or when speaking with customers.

It’s important that our agents understand the impact of their word choices on customer satisfaction and engagement. When our communication is done in written form or verbal without visual body language to enhance or confirm what we are trying to say, how the customer actually “hears” what we are saying or “sees” what we have written can be very different. The customer’s perception may not be in sync with what the agent is actually trying to convey.

These are a few examples of word choice pros and cons:


The word sorry is probably the most overused word that agents use. “Sorry” can be interpreted many ways by a customer: as sarcastic if the agent’s tone is cold or insincere or as flippant if the agent sounds distracted or interested in getting rid of the caller. Sorry used by itself without a complete sentence to clarify can be confusing or seen as a scripted throw away word the agent has been trained to use.

When an agent says or writes “sorry”, the word needs to be part of a well-structured empathy sentence while using an appropriate tone showing concern and interest.

I understand

Listen to a few calls where an agent says the popular “I understand” canned sounding empathy phrase and you will undoubtedly hear one of your customers respond, “No…you DON’T really understand…”

Has the agent truly showed concern and interest by saying “I understand”? This phrase can open a can of worms if the customer is already upset and looking for any reason to get even angrier.

Far better for an agent to say, “Based on what you’ve told me, I know you are frustrated and upset by what has happened. I’m sorry that you’ve had this happen. I will do all I can to help you get this straightened out as soon as possible.”

When our agent sounds in sync with the customer’s emotional state and personalizes the empathy, the customer invariably calms down and listens to what the agent says about the solution.

I didn’t do that/ say that

Saying that to a complaining customer is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I’ve seen this phrase written by agents in emails, adding blame towards another department for errors made. I’ve heard agents say these type phrases on calls too. The bottom line is that our customers don’t really care who did what and making excuses doesn’t help. They only care how we are going to fix the problem to their liking and that we take responsibility as a representative of the company for what occurred.

Unfortunately some agents have a problem taking responsibility and get defensive. We need to help agents see the way this affects customers and results in escalation to management.

Our policy is

Yes, we have policies and customers do understand that we have these in place, but we need to make sure our agents are not stating policy paragraphs like unfeeling robots. Prefacing the policy discussion with empathetic words while using a pleasant tone will go a long way to keep the customer discussion positive.

No one else has complained about this

I heard an agent say this to a customer on a call regarding a shipping policy and you can imagine what the response from the customer was like.

Our customers care what other customers think when it is a review of our products and services on social media. What they don’t want to hear is our agents making them feel that their complaint is wrong or strange. This is an opportunity for an agent to listen, empathize and move the customer forward to a positive resolution and understanding instead of defensiveness.

I don’t know

We cannot possibly know the answer to everything a customer asks since they may ask about an unusual situation we haven’t encountered before or encounter infrequently. Sometimes an agent just says, “I don’t know” and stops dead while clicking on the keyboard. Without visual, the customer has no idea what they are doing. Is that it or is something more happening?

Instead, the agent needs to immediately tell the customer that they will be happy to research this further and call or email them with more information and give a timeframe.

Hold On / Wait a minute

Sometimes agents forget that they need to ask the customer politely if they would mind holding and instead bark out what sounds like a command ranging from “hold on”, “wait a minute”, “just a minute”, or even worse “hang on.”

An agent rushing to transfer or put someone on hold can be seen in a negative light when poor word choices are used.

… Help your agents to practice using the best, most customer friendly words and phrases that will keep the conversation friendly and on track for success. Coach one to one using role-plays and discuss this topic in your meetings and you will see positive results.