Mind your language! (And don’t say ‘no worries’)

Recognition, however grudging, that one’s competitors in business are good at what they do leads to the essential conclusion that we need to be better than good to stand out from the crowd.

“Exceptional” is a standard that many of our sales and lettings agency client firms now aspire and ultimately adhere to, in order to attract and retain more business.

Any organisation that continually works to be exceptional at what it does needs to maintain a flawless consistency in how they present themselves to their customers.

A key part of that is the language, vocabulary or phrases that we use – in particular during telephone conversations.

The proper use of the telephone and how to announce yourself, put a call on hold, conduct a call, transfer a call and take messages need specific training. The reality is that many of us will not have had such training and our standards will vary. As a result, reviewing these elements should be part of our journey in our continual quest for excellence.

How many times have you phoned a business, started by saying “Hello. My name is Mr/s X. I wonder if I could speak to somebody about….”, only to be transferred and then asked what your name is and why you are calling, sometimes more than once. It happens to me more often than I’d care to mention.

Effective telephone techniques include listening intently from the outset, jotting the name down and using it during the subsequent conversation, as well as establishing the reason for the call quickly and accurately.

It is important to consider the phraseology in face-to-face communications with customers. Many of us may admit that we have become a little lazy in our use of language and influenced by film and TV in a way that is not always positive.

We need to be very conscious of tone and content when talking direct with our customers. The reality is that style and quality are both classless and international.

The warmth and attractiveness of accents, from whatever corner of the globe or the UK, add character, without which we would be cardboard cut-out clones lacking the individuality that makes each of us different and memorable. High calibre telephone techniques are not about accents or backgrounds – it is about being professional and using appropriate language.

Language speaks volumes. On regular occasions, when booking training venues, I request confirmation of the equipment provided – an example being a flipchart, wifi access or projector screen.

An all too common response is “That should be fine”. What does that tell me as the customer? Essentially, that I will turn up and maybe the equipment will be as I requested, but then maybe it won’t. Answers of “Absolutely” or “Of course” give an entirely different impression.

Another example of the language of exceptional customer service is the phrase “You’re welcome”. These two words sum up perfectly the mindset that we need to have and the way in which we need to interact with each and every customer. Emphasis can be added by saying “You’re most welcome” or “You’re very welcome” or “My pleasure” so as to vary the response. Clearly you must mean it – or else it is just another version of ‘Have a nice day’.

Whenever I hear “You’re welcome” said with obvious sincerity and warmth in an establishment, I am much more confident that I will be looked after and I believe that the person concerned understands his/her commitment to me as their customer.

Conversely, there are phrases that are totally unacceptable and should never be used as a response to customers. These include “No problem” or “No worries” or “No bother” or anything similar.

The implication to any customer is that although they have not been a problem or worry or bother on this occasion, they might well be on another occasion! Such phrases carry negative implications and are inconsistent with the journey to “exceptional” standards.

Lexicographer Erin McKean suggests that “perhaps the ‘no problem’ of service workers is a way to reclaim some measure of power – ‘no problem,’ after all, does remind the customer that their request is technically within the power of the employee to grant or refuse.” So, there seems to be a problem with “no problem”, hence why “you’re welcome” wins hands down!

On another note, calling clients and customers by their first names without being invited to is often seen as a somewhat informal and presumptive. A safer bet is to address them by surname until invited to do otherwise. I may be in a minority but I didn’t feel it appropriate to be addressed as “mate” on one recent mystery shopper exercise we conducted.

We can help agents improve their telephone techniques. In the hands of an untrained user, the telephone can be a lethal weapon.

It is essential to ensure that you cover this as a specific training item where you are responsible for a customer-facing team or if you use the telephone yourself within your job role.

Julian O’Dell

TM training & development

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  1. Property Personnel

    Good article Mr O’Dell and the “I may be in a minority but I didn’t feel it appropriate to be addressed as “mate” on one recent mystery shopper exercise we conducted.” resonates with me. I was recently unlucky enough to answer the phone to a cold-calling potential supplier who started his pitch by “How is your day going mate?”  I had to explain that he was not my mate and, needless to say, he is no longer a potential supplier!

    1. smile please

      Whole heartedly agree with you. I am not their “Mate” we have one agent near us and their staff refer to everybody as “Buddy” and they use it over and over in conversation. Checking a chain with them is like speaking to somebody with tourettes!

  2. Rob Hailstone

    The one that does my head in at the moment, usually in a shop or a bar: “you alright there?” “yes, I’m alright here, you alright there, how about ****** serving me!” Feel better now:)

  3. LocalAgent201625

    Have to say, I agree with some points and disagree with others.


    You adjust your language and character according to the client you’re speaking with, for example if you’re speaking to a black cab driver who is a bit of a “geeza” and calls you mate, It’s perfectly acceptable to call them mate back. On this note however, I wouldn’t open a conversation with something like “Hi mate, it’s matt from XX” that’s strictly unprofessional.


    One thing I find baffling is when clients walk into the office, regardless of how they look or your first judgement of them you should stand up ask them how you can help offer a seat and go from there. So many times I’ve seen colleagues and other agents literally just sit there and look as if they want to avoid greeting the potential client but as soon as the client says they “we would like a valuation please” the attitude changes completely and the red carpet gets rolled out. Then they wonder why they lose the instruction.


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