We don’t need customers like you…


The woman on the other end of the phone seemed pleasant enough, she thanked me for calling and asked how she could help, all in the first sentence.

“Hello, could I make an appointment to see one of the partners please?  I need a set of annual accounts preparing for my company’s year end.”

“Well, I can’t help you with that, but one of our partners can but you can’t talk to him now because he’s too busy with a client and can’t be disturbed.”

“Then could I make an appointment to see him please?”

“I can’t today, like I said he’s busy and can’t speak to you but I could look at tomorrow?”

“Sorry, that doesn’t suit me – is Thursday afternoon at 1.50 possible at all please?”

“Oh, that’s no good, he can’t, he doesn’t get back from his lunch hour until two so he can’t do meetings before two.”

“I’d really like 1.50 if possible to allow me to get to an appointment afterwards on time.  Does he have a slot on Friday?”

“No, he can’t do Friday.  I’ll see if I can persuade him to do ten to two on Thursday.  I’ll put you in the diary and call you if he can’t do it.”

Thursday 1.46pm – location, reception at the accountants premises.
“Hello, I have an appointment at 1.50.”

There’s a strange look on receptionists face which could mean either she’s got wind or she hasn’t got a clue what I’m on about. I deduced it’s the latter and found this more disconcerting than the former.  I had a momentary feeling of doubt and looked around to check I was in the right place.  I saw the signs bearing the correct company name – yep, this was where I was supposed to be but I didn’t know why she looked like I’d just asked her a question on quantum mechanics.

“There’s nothing in the diary.  He’s forever losing appointments isn’t he girls?”  “Yes” they shout in unison whilst rolling their eyes.

“There’s nothing in the diary darlin’ and I can’t speak to him because he’s in a meeting now.”

I noticed from the clock behind her that it was nearly 1.50, the exact time I was told he can’t do meetings.

“Who did you speak to, to make this appointment, I know it wasn’t me.”  She shuffled lots of paper on her desk.

“The lady didn’t give her name.” I replied patiently.

“Oh, here’s the call sheet.  Oh look, it’s my writing.  I remember this one, the man wanted ten to two and I told him that two would be the earliest – oh, was that you darlin’?”


“Well, I put it in the diary but I can’t see it now so I just don’t know what’s happened.”

I tried to remain patient and kept smiling, hoping that she might suggest a solution.

“Well,” she said, “I can’t think what to do.  What should I do?  I just don’t know what to do – I can’t…”

Keep smiling I said to myself.  I took a deep breath then calmly I said “I can help you with that, I’ll leave.”

This was a national firm of accountants, large branch network, multi-million turnover.  I’ve had better service buying doughnuts at the fair!

There simply is no excuse nor indeed, reason, why customers should be treated to the “can’t experience”.

This is 2015, we’re all enlightened to the concept of creating a great customer experience aren’t we? There simply is no excuse nor indeed, reason, why customers should be treated to the “can’t experience”.  This receptionist used the word “can’t” fifteen times during this brief exchange by the way – I wonder if she was trying to tell me something?

I think some companies just don’t understand the value, short and long term, of doing business in an “effortless” way with customers.  Their excuse would be, why do they need to bother or go the extra mile – theirs is already a profitable business.  People are just a thorn in their side with their demands of better service or in this instance, an expectation of normal, regular service.

It’s all so negative from a customer’s perspective.  I remember being told something while doing a piece of work for a high street bank.  The chap said “if you ever need financial advice, don’t hesitate to ask…”

I happened to ask (genuinely) why he’d used a negative phrase to make a positive statement, he took me by the arm and said, “‘don’t hesitate’ is company policy phraseology when signing off letters and emails – it works.”  I wondered whether “if you have any questions, please call me” might be a simpler and more positive way to phrase this action i.e. if you want this, do that.

It’s the simple things like ‘don’t forget your wedding anniversary’.  The action phrase is ‘don’t forget’.  Yes, I accept this is one way of wording this reminder but replacing it with ‘remember your wedding anniversary’ makes ‘remember’ the action, you are therefore more likely to remember.

In the past few years I’ve been involved in projects at contact centres within financial firms and gained further insight into just how powerful positive language can be.  In a customer service environment, the language that we use can have a huge impact on how customers perceive the service.  In a sales environment this is even more critical.  It’s all in the phrasing I reckon, the use of positive language.

Negative & Positive Language
Words like don’t, can’t, won’t, unable, tell the recipient what the company cannot do rather than emphasising positive actions or positive consequences which would be appropriate to the situation.  If you are going to eliminate negative phrases, you will of course need to replace them with more positive ways of conveying the same information.  This positive phrasing will focus what is said and conveyed into very easy and straightforward messages which are more easily understood and memorable.

During one particular skirmish with an insurance company, the admin manager wrote this to me – “..notwithstanding, the aforementioned policy with which the policyholder is graced, does not include provision for the likelihood of eventual loss of a pedal bicycle with a value greater than that which is stipulated in section 6 clause 4 subsection 3a, from a timber structure within the statutory boundaries of or adjacent to the policyholders property or main residence.”

Can you imagine that dictation session?  “Take a letter Miss Jones and remember I shall be using phrases from the 19th century, please keep up.”  I think they meant my bike was covered up to a set financial limit but not beyond if it was nicked from the shed.  But if it had been clear in the policy in the first place –  i.e. in the section called ‘stuff we cover in your shed’, bikes are covered up to £500 in value and if you’d like higher value cover, please ask, we will cover it, it’ll just cost a bit more on the policy – then maybe the skirmish would have been avoidable and I would have been able to insure my new bike under an upgraded policy and remain with that particular company.

Customer Lifetime Values
All of this brings me around to consider how many organisations understand and appreciate Customer Lifetime Values.  If the firm of accountants had taken my company on as a client, this could have been worth a few grand a year in fee income over the next ten years at least.  Surely a firm of accountants wouldn’t need a calculator to work out how much potential fee income they’d squandered by being useless.

The insurance firm could have kept my business for another few years with increased premiums from me and that of my family who, on hearing I’d switched insurers, switched too.  It all adds up over time.

And, one last thing, awesome customer service? Customer delight?  Simply words. Customer Service involves positive, affirmative action underpinned by a great attitude and understanding of how much a customer is actually worth to the company and what the consequences are if customers find it too challenging to deal with you.  “Only good surprises” is a phrase used by one of our clients.

As a post script to the challenge of getting an appointment with the accountant, the resident partner at the branch emailed an apology to me a few weeks later (better late than never I thought), explaining that the confusion over my appointment had been completely at their end and how sorry he was if I had been inconvenienced.  He went on to say that if I could overlook this inexplicable lapse in their award winning customer service (yes, really), he’d be pleased if I called to make an appointment and as managing partner he could discuss all aspects of my company’s financial requirements.  How thoughtful was that?  An olive branch and an attempt to reconcile the situation.  I called to make an appointment straight away.

The woman on the other end of the phone seemed pleasant enough, she thanked me for calling and asked how she could help, all in the first sentence.

“Hello, could I make an appointment to see John Smith please?  I need a set of annual accounts preparing for my company’s year end.”

“Well, he can’t help you with that but one of the partners in one of our other branches can.  Are you an existing client darlin’, because the partners can’t see you if you’re not an existing client…”

What’s that saying?  Fool me once – I forget the rest just now…


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