Customer Service: Talk the Way People Talk


by Roy Atkinson
February 9, 2017

I recently read a blog post advising customer service people that they should never say, “I don’t know.” The writer advised that they should say, “I’m sorry; I do not have that information.” In a comment, I said that “I don’t know is perfectly acceptable, as long as you immediately say: “I will find out for you.”

People would much rather have you sound like a human than like a script.
Tweet: People would much rather have you sound like a human than like a script. @HDI_Analyst @ThinkHDI #custserv

Instead of telling the truth (“I don’t know”), the writer suggests that you:

  1. Apologize (for what are you sorry, I wonder)
  2. Speak a phrase that is not natural

I can hear the conversation now:

“What are we having for dinner?”

“I’m sorry; I do not have that information.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned working in many customer-facing roles over the years, it’s that people would much rather have you sound like a human than like a script. There will be times, even if your organization excels at knowledge management, that you don’t have the information necessary to answer the question the customer has posed. It’s OK! No one can know everything, and something new happening will sometimes outrun your knowledge base.

It’s not OK to say, “I don’t know,” and leave it at that. You should:

  • Let the customer know that you will find the answer to their question
  • Give them an estimate of how long it will take to get the answer
  • Meet or beat the estimated time

If you cannot get the answer within the time you have asked the customer to wait, contact them back via the same channel they contacted you (phone call, chat, text, etc.) and let them know you are working on getting the answer and will give them an update within a stated time. If you promise a customer that you will call them back within 15 minutes, call them back in 12 with either the answer or an update. Exceed their expectations.

Doug Tedder covers how to talk to customers in The Customer Hears How You Look.

While your manner of speech or writing should not be sloppy or slangy when you are dealing with a customer, you should not sound overly formal, technical, or scripted, unless you must read a script for legal or regulatory compliance reasons. (Yes, there is an exception to every customer service rule.)

Your customers are often tense and/or frustrated when they contact support. Speaking or writing to them in a natural, human way tends to put them at ease. If you want customers to trust you, you have to develop that trust by being human and then following through on what you say you will do.

Talk the way people talk.


Roy AtkinsonRoy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for SupportWorld articles and white papers. In addition to being a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee and the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board, Roy is a popular speaker at HDI conferences and is well known to HDI local chapter audiences. His background is in both service desk and desktop support as well as small-business consulting. Roy is highly rated on social media, especially on the topics of IT service management and customer service. He is a cohost of the very popular #custserv (customer service) chat on Twitter, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on December 9, 2014. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.


Tag(s): customer experience, customer service, supportworld, people

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