Avoid Words That Trigger Customer Anger

25.06.2018 |

Episode #5 of the course How to serve upset customers by Jeff Toister


Our last lesson focused on the partner technique, which is a way to help customers feel like you are on their side. Sometimes, having someone on our side is all we need to feel good!

There are other times when we need a few extra skills. Today, we’re going to focus on certain words we should avoid when we try to partner with customers. These are called trigger words.


Identifying Trigger Words

A trigger word is confrontational, disempowering language that can trigger a customer’s anger when used in the wrong moment. Here are examples of common trigger words that can easily make an irritated customer boil over:

• no

• you

• can’t

• policy

• should

Imagine you ask a customer service employee for help. Here’s what those trigger words might look like in a sentence:

No, you can’t do that because it’s against our policy; you should have read all the terms and conditions.”


If you’re like me, you can almost feel your blood boiling when you are a customer and an employee says something like that to you.

The challenge with trigger words is we often use them instinctively. If a customer asks for a discount and the answer is “No,” then our instinct is to say, “No.” Likewise, if our company has a policy that prevents a customer from doing something they want to do, the easiest explanation is to point to the policy.


Replacing Trigger Words

One way we can improve is by thinking of more effective replacement words ahead of time, so we have a better chance of saying the right thing in a critical moment.

A great way to do this is via the “don’t say this, say this” exercise described in The Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Get a piece of paper, find a whiteboard, or open a new text document on your computer, and draw three columns.

Step 2: In the first column, make a list of situations where a customer is likely to get angry if you say the wrong thing. For instance, perhaps there’s an unpopular policy you need to reinforce.

Step 3: Write, “Don’t say this,” at the top of the middle column. Then write an example of something you should not say to a customer for each situation listed in the first column. These should be things you might be tempted to say if you weren’t thinking, like reinforcing an unpopular policy by saying, “There’s nothing I can do, it’s our policy.”

Step 4: Write, “Say this,” at the top of the third column. Try to think of an appropriate, non-confrontational alternative for each situation. For example, you might reinforce an unpopular policy by explaining how it benefits the customer in some way and then offering them additional assistance.

Step 5: Keep your list handy, and try using your replacement phrases as the situation arises. Check off each phrase as you use it with a customer, and note the reaction you receive. Keep practicing until you’ve tried each replacement phrase at least once.

(Yep, you’ve just made a Trigger Word Bingo game!)

Some of your replacement phrases may work perfectly, while others may still need some adjustment. I encourage you to experiment with different options, since we often learn best through trial and error. What’s most important is that we attempt to use non-confrontational language that helps our customers feel better, not worse!

Of course, there are some customers who still get too angry and completely cross the line. That’s going to be the focus of tomorrow’s lesson.


Recommended book

The Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi


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