Silverstein: Do Your Words Confuse Your Customers?

April 1, 2024
How to improve your vocabulary to better manage customer expectations.

In 1972, comedian George Carlin introduced America to the seven words you can’t say on television. While not as profane, I’d like to introduce you to my variation—the seven words you should never say to a customer.  

1. Look. Customers think that when you look at something on their vehicle they won’t have to pay. After all, you only looked at it. If you haven’t discussed a strategy for addressing their concerns and the fees associated with that process before the process begins, you can’t blame them. Remember, anyone can look at a vehicle but only a trained professional can accurately evaluate their vehicle, determine the appropriate repair, and complete it in a timely fashion.

Substitute: Evaluate/Evaluation. “Once the initial evaluation is complete, I’ll contact you with the results. The fee for this initial evaluation is X dollars.” This sets the expectation that you are providing a service of value and, when the customer agrees to the price, (before any work has been performed) it dramatically reduces the possibility of push-back at the counter when the bill is presented for payment.

2. Find/ Found. A frequent customer complaint involves bringing in their vehicle for a simple service, such as an oil change, and the service advisor presents them with a list of items that need addressing. The service advisor typically says, "Well, Mrs. Jones, when our technician performed our free multi-point courtesy check of your vehicle, he found the following items in need of service and/or repair.” Found items imply that you were looking for them and, in the minds of many customers, that’s extremely suspicious behavior. It screams of upsell. 

Substitute: Noted. When your tech has completed his courtesy inspection and the service advisor needs to speak with the customer, refer to these items as what the technician noted as needing service or repair.


3. Diagnostic. If there ever was a single word that is the source of frustration and headaches for the shop owner, diagnostic is it. Due to the influence of big box auto parts stores and many YouTube personalities, much of the public incorrectly believes that a parts store clerk using a cheap code reader can accurately diagnose a vehicle problem. This is why I recommend removing the word diagnostic your vocabulary. An accurate diagnosis results from a careful, methodical evaluation that includes testing various system components of the vehicle. You are providing rock-solid proof of a component or system failure along with the solution to returning the vehicle to proper running condition. The testing and charging appropriately for that testing is the hallmark of a professional.     

Substitute: Testing or Evaluation. "The fee for initial testing is ... or the fee for the initial evaluation is..." Note that a diagnosis is the end of a process, which leaves consumers thinking it's "one and done."

4. Yeah. Do not say “yeah” to a customer. Replace “yeah” with “yes.” Whenever possible, use phrases like, “Yes, we’d be happy to do that for you” (or some variation of that phrase) or “My pleasure.”


5. No. When possible, frame your answers in a positive light. Instead of “No, today’s schedule is completely booked,” say, “Great news, we can get you in as early as tomorrow. Would 8:00 or 8:30 work better for you?” Should someone ask a question about a service we don't offer (e.g., ADAS) I answer this way: "While we don't perform this service here, we have the resources available to us to have it done properly for you." To be clear, I don't mean to suggest that the word no can never be used, however, it's used far too frequently. 


6. Problem. We are problem solvers or problem preventers by trade. After all, that’s why they brought their problem to us. Instead, use challenge or issue. For example, “We have identified the source of your braking issue," or "The challenge we now face is that the parts needed to proceed with the repairs are not available until tomorrow."


7. No Problem. This is frequently said as a reply to a customer who says, "Thank you." The proper response to thank you is "You’re Welcome" (or some variation of that phrase), “I’m glad to have been of service", or "My pleasure."


Words matter. Our choice of words and phrases when speaking to our clients, along with how they are spoken, define the customer experience. If your goal is to be viewed as a professional, practice these words and phrases to speak and act with more professionalism.

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