Stop the They

Removing They

In my nearly 20 years being involved with sales, marketing and technical support, I have been fortunate to work with a wide variety of folks who are both really good and really bad at customer interactions. I have observed many of them (including myself) and have come to discover that there is one key word that people dealing with customers should really REMOVE from their vocabulary. By removing this word, those individuals were able to more smoothly interact with customers and resolve issues quickly. 

So what is this magic word I’m speaking of? “They”

Using the work “they” when speaking to a customer is basically to me a crutch for someone who does not feel empowered to do their job or is interested in taking the easy way out and passing the buck. Now I know those are strong words, and trust me I catch myself all the time using the “they” word. Comments like “They will not let me…”, “Unfortunately, they…” and other similar statements all share one other thing besides the “they”. Notice how those comments come along with a negative statement. “Not”, “Unfortunately” etc. “They” becomes the crutch for being the bearer of bad news and immediately makes that conversation go in the wrong direction. You have now tried to deflect responsibility for something that is technically your job if you are the one interacting with the customer. While I certainly understand that there are many aspects of most situations that are out of your control, what is in your control is that interaction you are having with the person that pays your paycheck (The customer). You are not helping that customer, now the customer feels like they need to talk to that mystical “they”.

So what to do instead? The people I have witnesses and the most success I have had requires a change of attitude towards providing bad news. We need to take more of a Hero approach towards the interaction and take ownership of the situation. This will do 2 things for you. It will remove many of the negative words and statements during the discussion when you don’t have a “they” involved and it will also let the customer know you are the person they need to be working with to get it resolved. Now the conversation becomes more of a collaboration towards a resolution, not just a complaining session about that darn “They” person who just doesn’t want to work with us.

My last thought on this is as a professional who interacts with customers, you really need to get to the core of why your go to might be “they”. Again is it just a crutch you use, or is some cases I have seen it happen due to a bigger issue. Are you not empowered to properly do your job or do you not agree with the policies you are being asked to uphold. If it is either of that later two items, you do have a bit of work to do to really embrace this. You have to go to the “They” and have that hard discussion about why you are not empowered or why you don’t agree with it. Then if that doesn’t work or you can’t have that conversation you might need to find a new company to work for, find a new line of work or start your own company so you can be the “They!”

P.S. If you are going to take this to heart and try to improve based on this, I would also suggest looking to remove “Sorry” and “Unfortunately” as well.

January 15, 2016

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