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How to Use Positive Communication in Customer Service

7 min read
Sep 4, 2020

Our brains don’t like the word “no.” If you were put into an MRI scanner and had that word flashed on a screen for less than one second, you’d see a sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones in your brain. These hormones immediately influence the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication. You don’t want that for your customers, do you?

People are under enough stress in today’s world. If you want to win their heart and their business, you should be the one who takes their stress away. You want to make them feel comfortable around you while they’re doing business with you, and you want to make them want to come back. A good way to do that is by focusing on using positive communication in customer service.

Changing negative sentences into positive ones 

It’s easy to communicate positively when everything goes the way we want and customers are happy. But our goal is to implement positive communication in situations that are stressful for you, especially when you’re solving customers’ issues. Our communication is a reflection of our thoughts, so we’ll start by changing the way we perceive stressful situations in customer service. Then we’ll change common negative phrases like “no,” “I can’t,” and “I don’t” into positive sentences. Let’s begin. 

"I don’t know"

OK, so you don’t know something. Stressful thoughts like, “My job is to know it by now,” are rushing through your head. Maybe you should know it, maybe you forgot, maybe you haven’t learned it yet. Whatever the reason is, it happens to the best of us. You don’t need to be a walking encyclopedia, so don’t beat yourself up for not knowing the answer. It won’t help you solve the problem. 

The “I don’t know” answer doesn’t help customers either. They’re not interested in hearing that you’ve only been working there a month, or that you’re still in the onboarding phase. They’ll show you some empathy, but, at the end of the day, they just want you to solve their problem. So, if you don’t know something, focus on the quickest way to find out. 

Situation:

A customer buys furniture online and asks if the price includes delivery. Here’s how you can answer:

  1. I don’t know. I don’t think so.
  2. Good question. Let me find that out for you right now!

By focusing on the positives, you show a customer that just because you don’t know the answer, it doesn’t change anything for them. Telling customers you’ll do your best to find out what they need to know keeps them calm and lets you focus on finding a solution. 

“I can’t…”

“Can’t” is another negative word on our list that you should avoid. “I can’t do that” and “You can’t have that” are phrases we hear too often in customer service. The good news is that they have great potential to be changed into positive communication. Whenever you think you can’t do something, or you don’t know how to, treat it as an opportunity to learn. I know it’s easier said than done, but reframing negative words can help you change the perspective.

Situation:

A customer comes to you with an issue that you have no idea how to solve. Depending on how you perceive the situation, your answer will vary. Here’s what you can say:

  1. I’m sorry, but I can’t solve this problem right now.
  2. I can learn to solve this if you just give me a little time.

The first option makes everyone stressed out, including you. The second option, although it doesn’t guarantee a solution, is much more helpful. By taking a positive approach, you focus on solving the issue instead of explaining to a customer why you can’t do something. They can sense your positive attitude, and that makes them feel secure and relaxed. 

“It’s not available right now”

Nobody likes to hear this one. However, since it’s not your fault that the item is not in stock, you might as well tell the customer, right? Wrong! When you can’t provide something that customers want, place emphasis on the solution. Again, that’s the only thing they care about.

Situation:

A customer asks for a product that is not in stock. You can answer:

  1. We don’t have this item, and it won’t be available until about two weeks when we receive another shipment.
  2. This product will be available within two weeks. I can place your order and make sure it will be sent to you as soon as it arrives.

Instead of using phrases like, “I can’t get that for you” or “It’s not available,” provide the closest alternative. Think about the possible solutions that customers might be interested in before they even ask you a question about them. 

These are the basic negative and positive phrases we hear in customer service. I hope you get an idea of how changing the way you see a situation you’re in can influence the way you communicate. Now, let’s see how you can implement that into positive communication with customers every day.

1. Review your online communication 

If you want to summarize how you communicate in general, start with the messages you wrote in the past. This is easy to do when using online communication. You can check the messages you’ve sent in Slack, live chat, or email. Your comments on social media are another good source of learning.

Try to be objective. Is the gist of your message mostly positive, or is there a negative vibe that could come across to a customer? You may notice a pattern with the way you respond to customers when you’re getting stressed or irritated. Being aware of that is a big step towards improving future messages. 

2. Reread your messages before you send them

It’s understandable that you want to help your customers as quickly as possible. However, you won’t solve their problem or make them feel better with negative communication. Before hitting “send,” quickly review your message. Look for negative words such as “can’t,” “don’t,” “won’t,” “no,” etc. Now, rewrite and reframe your message with a more positive tone.

After some time, you’ll notice that you’re focusing on the positive the moment you start typing. That’s because when you practice positive communication, your perception changes, your thoughts change, and, as a result, your communication changes as well.

3. Keep your emotions in check and look at it from the customers’ perspective 

When customers use negative communication towards you, it probably causes you some stress. When you’re stressed, it’s easier for you to misinterpret what they’re saying. To avoid conflict, try to deeply listen to customers, identify with their issues, and think about how the situation is difficult for them.

Filtering out the negatives, looking at a situation from their perspective, and focusing on the solutions are the best ways to build a connection. Over time, you’ll notice that it’s you who spots the negative speech, and you’ll respond with positive, calm messages.

4. Make sure you understand each other

It doesn’t hurt to ask a customer if you understood them correctly. You want to avoid sentences like, “No, you asked for a different product” or “I’m pretty sure, you didn’t order that.” These phrases are often used when there is a misunderstanding. What can help is double-checking with customers by saying something like, “It sounds like you are saying...” or “Let me confirm what you need.” When you’re not sure of something, don’t hesitate to ask to clarify things right away by simply asking what they mean.

Positive communication is also about making people feel good and understood, and questions are a big part of that. 

The power of YES

To overcome the neural bias against negativity, we must repeatedly and consciously generate as many positive thoughts as we can. Barbara Fredrickson, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, discovered that we need to generate at least three positive thoughts and feelings for each expression of negativity. If you express fewer, personal and business relationships are likely to suffer.

So, once you identify a negative thought, reframe it, and focus on using positive words. 

It'll probably take a while until it becomes second nature to you, but creating positive communication with customers is definitely worth it.