The language we use in customer conversations impacts our ability to engage them and build trust in the relationship. Did you know that nearly 70% of customers stopped doing business with a company because they felt they were treated rudely or with indifference? According to a 2017 American Express Customer Service Barometer survey, Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they will tell about a good experience. What we do, as well as what we say and how we say it all matter. Every word we choose can trigger a feeling or emotion, and it is our job to carefully select our words to maximize the impact of our message.
Here are 3 phrases Leasing Professionals should remove from customer conversations.
1. I’m Sorry
I cringe when I hear a Leasing Professional combine the two words “I’m sorry” with a smug facial expression. “I’m sorry” is commonly referred to as an empty apology. I call it a non-apology. Apologizing to customers is important, but the two-word phrase “I’m sorry” can come across as insincere when there is no context, helpful words, or action that comes with it. I know it’s hard to appear genuine when you don’t always truly feel sorry. Think about it. In most instances, you are apologizing for something you had no control over in the first place. In our industry, the “I’m sorry” phrase tends to rear its head when markets are strong and availability is tight. “Do you have any two-bedroom apartments available?” “No, I’m sorry. We’re full!” Quite often, this is said in a prideful tone (who wouldn’t be proud of 100% occupancy!) which unknowingly makes matters even worse. Good for me… sorry for you.
Recently, I had an unfavorable experience while booking a hotel room for a weekend girls’ retreat. The rate showed $149 per night online, and two hours later it wouldn’t let me book my room. When I refreshed my screen, it had increased to $300. I called the hotel directly and explained the situation. Every time I would share my frustration, all I would hear was “I am sorry.” There were no options offered. No referrals were made. I felt certain it was accompanied with a smug face on the other side of the phone and it made me feel like my call was unappreciated. While I understand that rates fluctuate, I wanted to hear more from her. I needed her to go beyond the non-apology. Unfortunately, as fantastic as the accommodations are at this hotel, I would never consider staying there based on this one experience with one person. And I am not alone. According to a survey by Right Now and Harris Interactive, 82% of respondents admitted that they stopped doing business with an organization due to one poor customer experience.
Try some alternatives like this to the non-apology “I’m sorry”.
- I am sorry this happened because I am not able to control the rates. If I were you, I would be very frustrated as well. You could check back after 4pm when the system updates again, or I could recommend another option for you in the area that could work.
- I am sorry because this has happened to other customers in the past, and I understand how you feel. Based on my experience there is a 50/50 chance the rates will go back down. Do you want to give it some time? If not, have you looked at any other hotels in our area? I would recommend XX which is very similar to our facility and has great ratings.
- I am sorry because I cannot undo that negative experience with the online booking site for you. I can make a couple of suggestions. If your date is flexible, you could revisit the calendar and prices. If not, I could recommend another option in our area in your price range with similar accommodations.
Instead of dishing out seemingly insincere apologies, Leasing Professionals should identify the reason they are sorry. The customer is much more likely to accept your apology if they believe you truly understand their struggle and are willing to help you find a solution. We often apologize for problems we didn’t directly cause, but when we are the person acting as the face of the company we are where the blame falls. Teach your employees to apologize on behalf of your team and company. When they acknowledge where things went wrong on their end, even if it’s something that seems insignificant, they have the potential of turning the experience around.
2. I Am Going to Be Honest with You
Did you know that criminal investigators listen for the word “honestly” as a tip-off that their subjects are lying? Leasing Professionals use this phrase with good intentions because they either think it is an effective sales technique or it has just become habit. Unfortunately, in most cases, it has the opposite effect from the one they intended. If you say you are going to be honest, does that mean you haven’t been honest up until this point? I used to work with a person who would use this phrase with practically every customer. “I am going to be honest with you; this is the last one available.” “I am going to be honest with you; we don’t usually offer this kind of deal.” “I am going to be honest with you; someone else is also interested in this apartment.” This phrase will quickly plant doubt in the customer’s mind about whether what you are saying is true or not.
Leasing Professionals should drop this phrase from their sales conversation and speak with brevity and clarity. To build trust early on, you should be transparent and present the customer with the facts, all the facts and only the facts. The goal is to add value to the conversation and the phrase “I am going to be honest with you” adds no value.
3. I Don’t Know
When Leasing Professionals find themselves in a situation where they don’t know the answer to a customer’s question, they often respond with “I don’t know…” and then you can hear crickets chirping in the lingering silence. We’ve all been there! Don’t get me wrong. There are many situations in sales and business when the words “I don’t know” can be used in a positive and powerful way, but when a customer stumps your Leasing Professional with a question while touring the apartment and their only response is “I don’t know” it works against them. Rather than always turning to “I don’t know” as a default, Leasing Professionals should prepare themselves with some more detailed and powerful responses.
- Customer: “What are the dimensions of this bedroom?” Leasing Professional: “I am not sure, but I have a tape measure, so let’s measure it.” (Tip: Take a measuring tape on your property tours!)
- Customer: “Will you be offering any specials next month?” Leasing Professional: “Great question. While I can’t forecast that far out, I can make a note to call you, if that happens.”
- Customer: “Do you know what stores will be opening in the new shopping center across the street?” Leasing Professional: “That is a timely question because I am currently gathering that market information. Would you like me to call you tomorrow with those answers?”
Nothing can fluster even the most imperturbable Leasing Professional like being asked a question to which they don’t know the answer. By replacing “I don’t know” with something substantive, a Leasing Professional will build trust in the relationship and increase their value in the eyes of the customer. It is easy to say “I don’t know” because it requires no thought, action, or effort. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” Filling in the “I don’t know” will take some work. When you practice this as part of role-playing with your team, it becomes a fantastic opportunity to apply knowledge and practice sales skills.
The daily interactions between a Leasing Professional and their customers are fragile. If they use the right words, the relationship will blossom. If they use the wrong words, the relationship could quickly wilt. Even when they don’t intend to be rude or uncaring, some phrases or tones come across that way. It is often the little things we do that make the biggest differences, such as choosing the right word or phrase.
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions