Choose Your Words Carefully


Once or twice a week, I walk into my neighborhood dry cleaners with an armful of shirts. As the clerk (and it doesn’t matter which one) approaches the counter, they hopefully ask “just dropping off?”

And I always reply, “Nope, I need to pick up as well.”

Then, as if it was a choreographed part of their business, they take in a little breath and turn back to walk to the computer, to look up my order number. I’m pretty sure they’re completely unaware that they do it. Or that it is so embedded in the culture of the company that they ALL do it.

But they message they transmit is “it’s kind of a pain to have to get your stuff for you. I wish you were just dropping off.”

I never leave feeling as though they appreciate my business. I leave feeling bad that I inconvenienced them.

Imagine how different it would feel if they approached the counter with a “do you have an order to pick up too?”

Tiny tweak. Major difference.

Are you sure you’re transmitting the message you want your customers to receive? Are you sure there’s nothing in your company’s culture/customer interaction that could use a tiny tweak?

Latest posts by Drew McLellan (see all)


  1. Redfox Rebates says

    “Would you like fries with that?” This phrase has been said millions of times and has brought in millions of extra revenue to McDonalds a high percentage of the time. Small phrases can make a huge difference…nice post!

  2. Mike Collins says

    I’m sure he has no idea that he’s doing that. He’s completely focused on getting you to pay more for his services but he seems to care little about actually giving you good service. He wants your money but your business is just an inconvenience to him.

  3. indeed. a few tweaks here and there can almost spell the difference between decent customer service, and service which leaves the client a little doubtful.

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  5. Those sighs will cost them business. You might want to do the owner a favor and send him a note. A little training can go a long way.

  6. Agreed: words are so powerful in every message your company sends. BUT, my question to you: why would you keep giving them your business? I’m sure they have already lost some customers with this attitude.

  7. Drew,

    That is, unfortunately, one part of the result of the ‘generic training’ – a really bad one… you have to say this… not that… and so on.. front desk is robotic and, sadly, becoming mindless.

    I agree to Ed – you should send the owner a note 🙂


  8. I’ve had employees that are generally good at their overall duties, however if they can’t smile and be super friendly, courteous, and helpful , I don’t care how well they clean glass, their gone. I don’t want to lose a long term customer, and see thousands of dollars fly out the window, and have them bad mouth my many hours of labor with my baby.I would sooner do the hours till I could find another employee, and not just put up with someone who doesn’t have people skills.

  9. Words are powerful. Well, in both ways – good and bad. Great post by the way!

  10. Excellent post, thank you.

    Drew’s statement: “Tiny Tweak. Major Difference.” hits home with me as well.

    This also holds true for internet-based businesses where the personal link to your customers is the telephone.

    It is amazing how immediately warm potential customers become simply being greeted on the phone by a person with a cheerful, positive inflection in their voice. After all, that is the same customer service I want to receive when I am on the other end of the phone.

  11. Redfox,

    You are so right. We need to choose our words so carefully. That is one of the biggest misconceptions about business today.

    You simply cannot over train your staff.


  12. Kouji,

    Very true. I think the difference between okay and great are some very simple details. But most business owners focus on the big stuff and leave the small stuff to chance.

    Here’s a vivid example of what can happen when those details are ignored.


  13. Mike,

    It’s not usually the owner who uses that language and body language. It is his employees — many of whom are teenagers.

    It tells me he doesn’t talk to them about the stuff that really matters.


  14. Thanks Kevin! I know it’s re-running this Sunday so I am going to check it out.


  15. Ed,

    I’m going to print out this post and all the comments and mail it to him with a note. But….I’ve already found another dry cleaners.

    So I am a lost cause for him. And I was a weekly customer so it was no small loss.


  16. Christine,

    Like so many customers, I have just tolerated it. It’s incredibly convenient location-wise, the prices are reasonable and it felt like a hassle to find a new place to go.

    But, little things build up, which I think is a huge message for business owners. And sure enough, I’ve found another dry cleaners. A little further away but very customer focused.

    Which seems to be what matters more to me.


  17. Noob —

    Agreed. I am going to send him this post and all of your comments. That should deliver the message!


  18. Karlla,

    It sounds like you get it. I wish more small business owners did. How do you work with your employees to teach them good customer service?

    Do you have on-going training or how do you keep it top of mind for them?


  19. Roger — thanks, glad to have you here are one of our readers. And you are so right. Words carry tremendous power.

    So we should choose them carefully.


  20. Lynae,

    I think how we answer the phone is of critical importance. especially in today’s world of automated phone systems.

    That’s the first impression for many potential customers. We should script it purposefully.


  21. Hey Drew,
    Great post! One of the primary reasons I was drawn to my current employer is that the company, from the owner to the front line staff put customer service first. This was evident from the training I received when I first arrived, and the overall philosophy of the company. After working here for almost a year, I am still proud of our emphasis on customer service. It has made me a much pickier customer, I can tell you!

    I think the key to great customer service is to train your employees and make sure that they understand the company brand, and the company philosophy, and also empower them to make decisions to help within certain parameters. That seems to have worked very well here. We all feel empowered to put the customer first, help them and be a good resource for them. We know what types of decisions we can make ourselves without needing clearance, and we know when we need to ask a manager. It makes all of us feel better, overall, about our jobs, which, in turn, makes a difference in our Customer Service.