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There is a special language that customer service providers use when dealing in customer service.  It’s the language of caring, of nurturing, of calming and of helping. Why do we contact a customer care provider? There’s really only one of two reasons:

  1. We have a problem that we need help with
  2. We need information to help us uncover what our needs really are and point us in the right direction

Either way, the key word here is HELP! Let’s look at the language of customer care and also at some of the language that can hurt relationships and stop customer care (and all communication) in its tracks.

  1. Let’s start by looking at two kinds of language not to use with some STONEWALL language. You probably have heard the term ‘stonewalling’ before. It literally means delaying or blocking a request, a process or a person by refusing to answer questions or by giving evasive answers. Politicians are known for it and it results in suspicion. For example: What happened when you called to complain? So stonewalling sounds like this:
  • No.
  • No, we don’t have those in stock.
  • No, we can’t help you with that.
  • I don’t know.
  • I can’t do that.
  • You have to jump through hoops A, B and C first ....

These are all Stonewall answers to customer questions. Stonewalls can stop all communication dead in its’ tracks. They are as final as hitting that proverbial wall and are saying to the customer: we don’t want you here. Go away. Now, they may be the truth but they will leave a very bad taste in the mouth of someone who could have been a future customer or at the very least a referral source to your company. Stonewalls don’t offer alternatives, they just stop communication.

Next is WISHY WASHY language, almost as bad as STONEWALL language and certainly just as frustrating. Here’s how it sounds:

  • Uhhhh.... I’m not sure if we have that or not .... we used to carry it ....
  • I’ll have to check with my supervisor ... she’s out today. Call back tomorrow and someone will tell you.
  • No, I don’t think we do that anymore.

WISHY WASHY language is about as vague as you can get. There isn’t a definitive answer buried anywhere inside this language. There is no commitment to help, no yes or no... it’s riddled with maybe’s, I’m not sure and I don’t think so’s. It leaves the customer wondering whether there is any possibility of help!

This brings us to the first aspect of positive customer care language and that is FLEXIBLE language. Unlike STONE WALL, FLEXIBLE language has alternatives. It has flexibility and it has options. Unlike WISHY WASHY it has concern and commitment. It might sound like this:

  • We’ve actually found a great alternative to that with the ABC widgets. Would you like to hear about ABC?
  • You know we don’t carry that anymore but our sister company Acme HVAC does carry it. Would you like their number or would you like to have me get Joe from ACME to call you with the information?
  • You know we don’t usually promise overnight delivery but our lorry was delayed today and is leaving shortly, that would get it there about 11 am tomorrow. Would that work for you?

Like a backbone, this language keeps us upright but we are still flexible enough to bend over backwards for our customers.

How do we add an element of nurturing to our language in customer care? There are softening statements. These are phrases that can help us such as ...

  • I’m glad you asked that ...
  • Good question
  • A lot of people run into that problem ...
  • That’s not unusual, it can be confusing ....
  • Good point ....

These are softening statements – phrases we use to say something positive to a customer – to make them feel smart or not alone or just plain appreciated. Get into the habit of being aware of when a customer might be feeling reluctant or foolish for asking a question and a simple phrase like these can ease that fear completely.


What is nurturing language? It’s the language of empathy – the act of listening and placing yourself in the speaker’s shoes – having the capacity to recognise emotions that are being experienced by another without actually experiencing them yourself. 

Nurturing is evident in phrases like – I see where you’re coming from; .... I completely understand or That makes perfect sense to me. Nurturing language sends the message that you hear them and your entire purpose is to help your customers. It conveys how important customers are to you. It conveys appreciation, encouragement and gratitude. It is achieved through your tonality, the words you choose and your body language. 

From time to time we might allow our emotions to affect us.  We may be angry or frustrated at an unrelated situation and that reveals itself in our communications to customers. Perhaps we’re in a hurry to finish for the day or move on to another task – customers recognise this and will read it as dismissive.  Or perhaps we’re not feeling too well or very low energy. Being in customer service is much like being an actor – it doesn’t matter how you feel, the show must go on. It’s up to us to display nurturing behaviour anytime we’re communicating with a customer – and that includes by email. Don’t let a momentary lapse be caught on email.

This brings us to calming language. When a customer is upset with us in any way, whether they’re impatient, frustrated, hurt or just totally angry, it’s critically important that we don’t get hooked into their emotion. Our natural instinct might be to be resentful or defensive. Those are emotions that will add to their negative emotions, not resolve them. There is a very fine line between being condescending or patronising with a customer and calming them. 

Probably the worst thing you can do is to ask them to ‘calm down’. Rather, showing empathy here is what’s called for: I can certainly see why you’re upset, I would be too in this circumstance. Let’s see how I can help. Do you mind sharing with me what’s happened so far? When you said: I can certainly see why you’re upset – you didn’t say it was your fault, you simply validated how they were feeling at that moment. The offer to help was throwing them a lifeline for resolution. Asking permission for more information will give them a feeling of controlling the situation; and it provides a further opportunity to vent their frustrations, an important part of resolution. If an apology is due, use the word apology. For instance, I can see this has really upset you, I apologise for that. ‘Sorry’ is such an overused, throw-away word these days that it sometimes loses its meaning.

Another part of calming is active listening skills. Allowing a customer to ‘tell their story’ is important to them. You may have heard a similar tale from dozens of other customers but this customer wants to tell you their story. Listen to them carefully. Don’t jump to a solution before they have had an opportunity to get it off their chest. It’s part of the resolution process. They want and need to be heard.

Finally, the language of customer care is about resolution. There are many words you can use in the resolution process and mostly they can be found in your questions. Resolution language is curious, it’s exploring and it’s understanding. ‘So help me understand, you’re looking for the software but you are not in a position to change up any hardware at the moment. Is this the case?’ or ‘Would you be open to thinking about this problem from another point of view?’ It’s about exploring alternatives and offering choices. It’s also about gauging customers’ resolve to find the solution and their flexibility on alternatives.

The language of customer care is the language of caring, of nurturing, of calming and of helping. It’s hard to step outside ourselves and hear what we might sound like to our customers. We might be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised! Try to become a ‘fly on the wall’ of your own conversations – be aware of your reactions, how you might sound to your customers and how your words affect them.

Be aware when you’re being a stone wall or wishy washy. A flexible backbone is the choice to make when dealing with customers. Always choose a tonality and words that are empathetic, nurturing and calming. Particularly when customers are frustrated, stressed or in some way emotional. Bring alternatives to the table that work towards resolution. You have a choice to fix a bad situation or make it worse. Use your communication skills –words, tonality and body language to make any situation better. Build on loyal relationships – become known as the ‘go to’ person for solving problems, not for creating new ones.

Practice your language of customer care and see if it helps to build your effectiveness as a customer care provider and watch the relationships you value grow over time. Keep taking care of your customers.

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