The Number #1 Problem In Customer Service

Most advice about customer service is all about what to say and how to say it.

But the number one problem in customer service today isn’t what people are saying — it’s what’s not getting said. This comes down to a lack of honest communication on the part of both customer service reps and their customers.

So how can you achieve honest communication at your organization? Use these three strategies to get the unsaid said in customer service, inside and out:


You’re only as strong externally as you are internally. If you get the unsaid said internally, your customer service reps are more likely to do the same with customers.

When I work with executives, sometimes I hear them say, “I’m worried about telling my employees the full truth about this project or situation.” They usually cite some legal issue when I ask why.

I’m not a lawyer, but I am an expert on human relationships and communication. I can tell you that your employees will eventually find out that you hid something from them — and when they do, they will feel deceived.

In addition, it’s important that your employees get the unsaid said with each other. When your teams aren’t in sync, internal dysfunction will impact overall customer service.

A common example of this is when sales and operations don’t communicate well. Sales might promise delivery times that may not be achievable, and operations can’t follow through. This leads to discord internally and unhappy customers externally.

To get the unsaid said internally, start by embracing honest feedback. When you say, “You can tell me anything,” you must be prepared to embrace the response — whether you like it or not.

If you respond poorly to critical feedback, your employees will stop being honest with you. I’ve seen executives punish employees or even fire them for honest feedback. Others will roll their eyes, get defensive, or change the subject.

This promotes a culture of silence. In turn, your reps will be closed off and likely to tell white lies to customers to avoid conflict.

But it’s not enough just to embrace honest feedback. You must also positively reinforce honesty by actually using the feedback people give you.

That means saying, “Thank you for this feedback. Here’s what I’m going to do as a result of this new information…” This makes the person feel rewarded, and sends a message to others in the organization that when they communicate honestly, things can actually change.


Many customer service reps are coached to hedge their language to sound agreeable. For example, reps are often told to replace “but” with “and” to somehow trick customers into thinking they aren’t saying something negative.

But… if you use “and” instead of “but” as a gimmick, people can still tell your true meaning. Wordsmithing like this breeds mistrust in customers because they can see right through it.

Sometimes reps do verbal gymnastics to leave out key information for fear of alienating customers. As the leader of your organization, it’s up to you to give them permission to be honest and get the unsaid said.

Here’s a common example. A customer asks for a certain solution and the rep replies, “Yes, we can do that for you.” Only it’s not the full truth. In reality, that solution will take over a week to deliver, while the customer expects it by tomorrow.

Instead of being up front and saying, “Yes, we can do that for you…but it’s going to take over a week to solve this,” the rep leaves the customer in the dark on the details and doesn’t even mention the deadline implication.

The result? The customer expects the solution in a day, and when it takes over a week, they feel disappointed and deceived.

When customers feel lied to, they feel unsafe — and they’re more likely to lie right back to the reps. Emotional safety is key to building great customer relationships, so encourage your reps to get the unsaid said by leaving the wordsmithing behind.


Customer service leaders need to be careful about how and what they communicate, both internally to reps and externally to customers. Unintended messages from leadership can kill trust and discourage honest communication.

I’ll give you a personal example. I was recently on vacation in Europe, where I had booked a room at a five-star hotel. When I arrived, it became clear that the room I was given wasn’t the quality the hotel had promised.

The front desk person tried to fix the situation but ultimately couldn’t. There were no other rooms available. She apologized and agreed to give me a refund.

I left and went to another hotel. A few days later, I called the previous hotel to verify the refund. I spoke with the general manager and explained the situation. He replied, “Actually, we told you that it was non-refundable. You can’t have your money back.” I told him he was mistaken, and that the front desk person said she was going to refund the money.

Still, he wouldn’t budge. After a long debate, he reluctantly said he would do some research and get back to me. I got annoyed and said, “You obviously don’t believe me.” He replied, “I do believe you.” To which I said, “If you did believe me, you wouldn’t be doing the research; you would just refund the money.”

He emailed shortly thereafter, apologized, and gave me a full refund. I doubt that he did any research to confirm my story. What probably happened is he realized the unintended message he conveyed to me, and potentially to others involved in his organization.

The unintended message was that he did not trust me or the front desk person. He didn’t believe his customer, and he didn’t care to seek the truth from his employee — presumably because he wouldn’t believe her, either.

Trust was missing in all directions, making both customers and employees afraid to speak up, tell the truth, and give honest feedback.

Empower your customer service organization. Get the unsaid said by looking internal to create external, leaving the wordsmithing behind, and preventing unintended messages.

The results will lead you down the path to extraordinary customer service and consistent sustained higher growth.


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