Though Halloween is still a week away, it’s not too early to start thinking about the approaching holiday season. Winter—and all the holidays that come with it—can mean fun festivities and a big boost in sales. However, customers and employees alike often feel stressed and grumpy during this time of year, and as joyful as the holidays can be, they also often bring out a unique set of pet peeves and complaints.
Some people are irked by the politically correct phrase “Happy holidays!” as one reader recently noted. Others might be turned off by a “Christmas party” in the workplace, either because they don’t celebrate Christmas or because they view it as a religious holiday that shouldn’t be watered down.
One complaint that I hear often is that businesses keep moving the holiday season up earlier and earlier. For example, they put out Christmas decorations in early fall (I saw some in September this year!) or start playing carols the day after Thanksgiving. I was in one of my favorite shops the other day, and I really liked how the owner handled the issue.
She had the Christmas items relegated to a single bookshelf and included a small framed note that read “We are not trying to rush the season, but we want to show you a small sample of our fabulous Christmas items.”
I appreciated that she acknowledged the matter so forthrightly. It felt like a good balance of not pushing Christmas too hard too early, while also providing options for people who like to do their holiday shopping early.
I’m curious: If businesses “rushing the season” is one of your pet peeves, would this sign have appeased you?
[Image Source: Reunions]
Although it’s next to impossible to never offend anyone, I do try to avoid potentially offensive words and phrases, whether they bother me personally or not. Most offensive language is easy to identify, such as racial slurs and curse words, but occasionally I uncover an offensive phrase that truly surprises me.
Here are three examples of phrases that I used to say frequently, before I discovered that they offended some people:
- “That sucks.” I never thought much about the word “sucks” and often used it when commiserating with friends, “Oh, I’m sorry! That sucks!” Imagine my mortification, then, when a former colleague explained that for people in her generation, the word “sucks” still had strong sexual connotations. Now I usually stick with the safer “That’s too bad” or “That stinks.”
- “No problem” in the place of “You’re welcome.” I had no idea that this was such a bothersome phrase to so many people, but apparently it’s a common pet peeve. Linguistically, I actually think “No problem” makes more sense—like “de nada” in Spanish (literally “it is nothing”)—but once I realized that it bothered people, I decided to stop using the phrase. “You’re welcome” is always appropriate and “Happy to!” or “My pleasure!” are both acceptable alternatives.
- “Does that make sense?” when explaining something uncomplicated. I knew that qualifying my ideas with this empty question was a bad habit, but I was thinking only in terms of how the question subtly undermined my authority. I’ve learned, however, that asking that question unnecessarily also risks offending listeners. It implies that I don’t think they’re savvy enough to grasp whatever simple thing I’m saying. When you are explaining a complex idea or set of instructions, check understanding by asking “What questions do you have?”
What other potentially offensive phrases have you discovered?
[Image Source: Stockicide]
In August I shared “10 things you shouldn’t say to co-workers,” and in September, “10 things you shouldn’t say to your boss.” This month I’m back with things you shouldn’t say to customers. But First-Rate Customer Service Forum recently shared “5 things you shouldn’t say to customers” and I’m not interested in reinventing the wheel, so today I’ll add to that list:
- “Exhausted!” or “Counting down until my shift ends!” When checking out at a store, I always greet the employee with a friendly “Hi, how are you?” It catches me off guard when the person’s response is negative. In other social situations—if I were speaking to a friend, for example—I would welcome the honesty, but when you’re talking to customers, it’s best to be positive. Instead say: “I’m well, thank you!” or “Looking forward to enjoying the beautiful weather we’ve been having.”
- “What a jerk!” I’ve witnessed more than a few angry customers in stores. Sometimes it seems as though the anger is completely valid; other times it appears as though they are taking out their frustration on a customer service rep who’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, I’m always impressed by the reps who maintain their composure after the person leaves. Instead of drawing further attention to the negative exchange, those reps say things like “I’m sorry for the wait. How may I help you today?” or “I apologize for that scene. What can I do for you?” Those transitions have a calming effect on the remaining customers.
- “You can try, but my manager is just going to tell you the same thing.” I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve asked to speak with a manager, but in those rare instances, I do not like to be told that the supervisor isn’t going to listen to my complaint with an open mind. Instead say: “I’m not authorized to do that, but let me transfer you to my supervisor.”
- “OK.” I’ve never felt more blown-off by a customer service representative than I did on a phone call last week. I was attempting to book reservations for a trip, and I checked the business’s website before calling. The site said that they still had room available, but when I called—after waiting on hold for a good long while—the unfriendly man I spoke with told me they were sold out. I explained to him that the website wasn’t accurate and should be updated. His response: “OK.” Not another word. If a customer gives you feedback, reply gratefully. Say: “Thank you for making me aware of that. I’ll make sure it gets taken care of as soon as possible.”
- “Would you like to save an extra __% today?” I understand that many stores require their employees to ask this, so I don’t begrudge the individual customer service reps, but boy does that question annoy me. Of course, I’d like to save that percentage—or any percentage—but I’m not interested in paying for a membership or applying for a special credit card with horrible rates. I strongly prefer this far less manipulative alternative: “Are you familiar with our rewards program?”
What other phrases do you avoid saying to customers?
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[Image Source: Mindaugas Danys]
For the past couple of months a frequently played radio commercial has been driving me a little crazy. It’s a Microsoft ad promoting educational software, and it features the voice of a teenage girl who’s writing a report on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. At the end of the spot she quotes the play’s most famous line “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” and follows up with “He’s not in my high school!”
Presumably, it’s supposed to make listeners chuckle, but I cringe every single time.
I used to teach high school English, and Romeo and Juliet was on my ninth-graders’ syllabus. There are a myriad of ways to teach that play, but I’d bet money that just about every English teacher makes a point to stress the meaning of that one, very famous line.
If you need to brush up on your Shakespearean language, let me fill you in: “Wherefore” doesn’t mean “where.” It means “why.” Juliet isn’t asking where Romeo is; she’s asking why he’s Romeo, a Montague. She’s lamenting that, of all the men in Verona, she had to fall in love with the only son of her family’s mortal enemy. It’s not a nitpicky detail; it’s a crucial plot point!
So why oh why wherefore oh wherefore is Microsoft encouraging an incorrect interpretation of the line? I have no idea, but I don’t like it.
Before you risk hurting your organization’s or your personal reputation, do a little research. Amy Beth has written about the issue for presenters, at the American Speaker Blog, but fact-checking is an important step for all professional communication.
What is the most cringe-inducing error you’ve seen a company make?
[Image Source: Tate Gallery]
I was reading the white paper “How CHROs Deliver Business Impact: 5 Things the C-Suite Should Know About Talent and How HR Can Deliver It,” available through Workplace HR & Safey, and it got me thinking about how HR employees are not the only ones who often feel the need to prove their worth at work. Who hasn’t occasionally felt undervalued in the workplace? Managers and executives, of course, should recognize their employees for the value they add to the organization, but the majority of the onus still falls on the employee to prove his or her worth. Follow this advice to communicate your value effectively:
- Keep a record of your accomplishments. Occasionally tooting your own horn doesn’t automatically turn you into an obnoxious braggart. Shoot your boss an email when a project you’ve worked on does exceptionally well; your boss will want to share in the excitement of your success. Keep your LinkedIn profile updated with your evolving skills and achievements, and don’t be afraid to ask others to write you recommendations for the site as well. (Naturally, you should offer to return the favor.) Keep a journal where you jot down notes about workplace accomplishments big and small that you can reference as you fill out self-evaluations and prepare for performance reviews. It’s easy to forget what you’ve done over the course of six months or a year, but those specific anecdotes and data can make a big impression on your boss and leadership team.
- Understand the big picture. Being really good at your position is important, but it won’t take you that far if you don’t understand how your position contributes to your organization as a whole. Practice articulating why what you do matters to the big picture. And keep the organization’s overall goals in mind as you work, always making adjustments to do what’s in your organization’s best interest rather than what’s easiest for yourself.
- Assert yourself in meetings. Don’t be shy about sharing ideas and joining discussions. Having great ideas is worthless to your organization if you don’t share them. They don’t have to be completely fleshed out; you can work with others to turn your spark of an idea into a winning concept.
How do you communicate your value at work?
[Image Source: USACE Europe District]