Tag Archives | communication

Power Talking: Get Those “Buts” Out Of Your Mouth

I’m always looking for new customer service training ideas. Whenever I’m out in the marketplace–in restaurants, retail stores, community events, etc.–I’ve got my radar on for real life examples (both good and bad) that I can use for future sessions. And one of the simple behavior patterns I’ve noticed that separates exceptional customer service practitioners from their mediocre counterparts is vocabulary.

True customer service pros are what I call “power talkers.” They deliberately refrain from using weak, indecisive words and phrases and instead respond to customers with language that injects clarity, focus, and positive expectations into their conversations.

Words have power | Power talking

For example, consider how one simple, everyday word can weaken communication:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon, BUT we won’t have it done until tomorrow.”

“We received your request BUT the person who handles your account isn’t here today.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, BUT his computer skills are weak.”

Notice how the word “but” negates everything that was said before it. This weak word saps all the energy from the conversation. How many times have you heard, “Yes, but…” and felt deflated knowing that your idea or comment is about to get a rebuttal?

Words have power | Power talking

A more powerful and energetic alternative is to replace the word “but” with “and.” Notice how it changes things:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon AND we will have that for you by noon tomorrow.”

“We received your request AND I will have the person who handles your account call you when she returns tomorrow.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, AND he is developing his computer skills.”

If you’re seriously committed to building a strong personal brand, delivering exceptional customer service, and continually sharpening your leadership skills, the words you use matter. “Power Talking” is based on this simple but powerful truth: The words we use shape the outcomes we create in serving customers–and in everyday life.

Try it: I guarantee these simple changes in language will add substance and impact to the perceptions you create.

“Power Talking” is based on three principles of human communication:

1. People judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases you use in your everyday communication. Consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will cause people to respond more positively to you.

2. The people you want to influence–your customers, co-workers, children, etc.–take cues from your language when deciding whether or not they will cooperate with you. While some words or phrases unconsciously sabotage our efforts to work with other people, others are extremely effective.

3. The words you use when talking to and about yourself help to shape your own self-image and they translate to your actions and behaviors.

Here are some examples of each of these principles from my own experiences:

At a recent auto retailing conference, one of the presenters–a successful car dealer–opened by saying, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not much of a public speaker.” Can you guess how his presentation went? It was awful.

Overhearing a phone call from an employee to a late-paying customer, she said, “I was wondering if you could send in your payment sometime soon.” A better way to get cooperation would be to simply ask, “When may I expect your payment?”

Responding to a “When will my car be done?” inquiry from an anxious customer, a service advisor said, “It should be done sometime tomorrow afternoon.” Instead of projecting such an unclear expectation, a better response would have been: “It will be done by 3pm tomorrow.” (Then have it done by noon and exceed the customer’s expectations.)

Although each of these examples seem simple, becoming a “power talker” is not easy. Years of cultural conditioning can weaken our diction, corrupt our clarity, and suck the life blood out of our communication.

Words have power | Power talking

Finally, together with “But,” here are five more popular powerless words and phrases to eliminate from your vocabulary:

1. Try. Known as “the king of wimpy,” try carries with it no commitment at all. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Try, no. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Instead, be clear…and be firm. Candor and honesty will go much farther to build trust with your customer than “trying” ever will.

2. Have to. In customer service, saying “I’ll have to…” implies that serving your customer is going to be a burden, as in “I’ll have to check the availability and call you back.” Replace this negative line with the hospitable phrase, “I’ll be glad to…”

3. Basically. Together with “like,” “you know,” “well,” and a host of others, “basically” is what I call a “filler word” that serves no purpose; eliminate it–just say what you plan to say.

4. To be honest with you. When you hear this from someone, doesn’t it make you wonder, “Does this mean he is usually not honest?” Remove it–and simply say what you’re planning to say.

5. Should. When someone in customer service tells you, “I should have it done by…” how confident are you in such a weak commitment? Be decisive–say, “I will have it done by…” then over-deliver on your promise.

Remember, people judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases used in your everyday communication. Regardless of your line of work, consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will welcome people to respond more positively to you.

Which powerless words and phrases do you encounter most often?

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8 Powerless Words and Phrases You Should Avoid

“If thought corrupts language, then language can also corrupt thought.”
— George Orwell

My last post was all about leadership and communication; specifically, how sloppy presentation skills can undermine a leader’s credibility and influence. But communication goes beyond public speaking. The fact is, your everyday language–the words and phrases you use in ordinary conversation–has a similar impact on how people perceive you. If you pay attention to the words and phrases that come out of your mouth in routine conversations, chances are you’ll notice a few that could be limiting your clarity, impact, and effectiveness.

Here are eight common language faux pas’ to avoid.

Hedges: Phrases like kind of, sort of, possibly, I think, etc. that dilute the impact of a statement are known as hedges. They serve no purpose other than adding clutter to your speech. The more you can rid yourself of these pesky intruders to concise communication, the better.

Hesitations: Also known as “filler words” like uhm, oh, and er are among the most common powerless words. Often, they are so ingrained in people’s speech, they are difficult to remove. But you’ll be surprised at the clarity you will gain if you can, if not eliminate them, at least reduce how much you them. The key is to slow down your pace of speech.

Just. I wouldn’t be surprised if “just” ranks right behind “like” as the most overused word in the English language. The problem with just–“I’m just saying” or “I just want to follow up”–is makes you come across as defensive, and in so doing, saps much of the strength and conviction in your communication.

Basically. While this commonly used adverb at the beginning of a sentence may not seem like much of an issue, in reality, it’s completely unnecessary. (I almost wrote “basically unnecessary!”) Just say what you intend to say instead of weakening your point with this tired expression.

Tag Questions: I am frequently guilty of this, saying something like “Does that make sense?” or “Do you know what I mean?” implying that I was unclear. Like “basically,” tag questions add nothing of substance to your point. If you really want to know if the person/people you’re speaking to understand your point, then try asking a direct clarifying question, such as “What are your thoughts?” or “Tell me what you think.”

Deflections. These are what I call ” verbal buck passers” and include statements like, ‘I feel like…’, ‘I’m wondering if…’, ‘It seems to me…” or “It’s only my opinion, but…” Again, you may question why I prosecute such seemingly innocuous phrases, but as John Stonestreet says on his popular social commentary podcast, The Point, “(Deflectors) serve to dumb us down, pretending every argument is just a hunch we have.” To me, it’s a back door way of absolving yourself of responsibility for your position instead of fully engaging with someone.

Qualifiers: Whenever you insert an adjective or adverb in front of a word or sentence to soften it, you’re using a qualifier. Example:”I’m not completely sure, but…” or “Honestly speaking…” Once again, just say what needs to be said instead of diluting your point.

Intensifiers: Also known as superlatives, words like really, totally, or absolutely, if you’re not careful, can easily become redundant, watering down the strength of what you want to say. Example: “I am totally looking forward to having a really good time this weekend.” Like sugar and caffeine, be careful to use intensifiers only in moderation.

Remember, your communication shapes your personal brand. If you’re serious about presenting the best possible version of yourself to the world every day, then pay close attention to your everyday language.

Which of these common language faux pas’ do you most identify with in your everyday communication? Are there any others that you notice or struggle with?

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Who You Know Shapes Who You Become

“Show me your friends… and I’ll show you your future.” Tom Basson

“Show me your friends...and I’ll show you your future.” - Tom Basson

As a lifelong student of success, I’ve always been enamored with exploring why some people who possess what seem to be all the tools to create a massively successful, high impact life often seem to fade into mediocrity while others who, by comparison, start out with much less go on to rise to the top.

Although there are no clear cut answers, I’ve encountered some refreshingly helpful insights, one of which was shared by Tom Basson and involves harnessing the power of relationships. The big idea:

You become over time the average of your five closest friends.
Think about it. Who you allow into your life will ultimately shape your identity — and your destiny. So choose them wisely, and follow these three keys to managing your relationships to build your personal brand…  and secure your future:

1. Take a Social Inventory
Tom suggests the following exercise: Take a large piece of paper and draw a circle in the middle. Put your name in the circle and then draw lines coming from the center circle to create other circles in which you write the names of the people closest to you. Once you finish, ask yourself some tough questions:

• How many of these relationships can I realistically maintain?
• Which relationships are good for me, and which aren’t?
• Which relationships do I need to pursue for my own health and happiness?
• Which relationships do I feel God is nudging me to pursue?

The truth is, all your relationships are heading somewhere so when it comes to friendship, be intentional – don’t just wait for friends to fall into your lap. Pursue them. Surround yourself with friends who have the characteristics you’d like to develop in yourself. After all, your closest friends are who you’re becoming.

2. Be Present
Presence matters. There is power in physical presence. Comfort and compassion can only really be conveyed by physical presence, not through social media. It’s far more difficult and demanding, but it is also far more meaningful.

Being present means establishing a habit of availability to others — that is, it is something we choose to do and practice doing. So choose to be present.

3. Be Open
Being “open” can mean many things, but for me, in terms of approaching friendships, being open is about being vulnerable with those around you and telling people the truth behind what’s really going on in your life. Brené Brown, an expert on vulnerability, says that while “we may impress people with our strengths, we connect with people through our weaknesses.”

Being open means being brave enough to take off the mask and ask for help when you need it most.

Remember, the person you will be five to ten years from now will be shaped by the people that influence you the most — your closest friends.

Do you agree? If so, how would you “score” on the social inventory? Are your closest relationships growing you, depleting you, or leaving you the same? Leave me your comments… I’d love to know.

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Lessons on Leadership: What my father taught me about Customer Service

Recently, I was invited to speak to over 300 attendees at the Traverse City Economics Club’s spring luncheon on the history of our company, the Bill Marsh Auto Group. It is the story of my dad’s career that started back in 1958; a life journey of humble beginnings, defining moments, bold moves, and a lasting legacy.

A graduate of Yale University, my dad, who had recently married my mom, enrolled in Dickinson Law School in Carlisle, PA in the fall of ’58. The automobile business was the furthest thing from his mind. But things changed over Thanksgiving when he learned that the small Ford dealership my grandparents opened in nearby Newtown, PA earlier that year was failing in the wake of my grandfather’s declining health and a downturn in the economy. Faced with the prospect of his parents losing their business—and their life savings– my dad exchanged his law career for the crucible of turning around a nearly bankrupt small business with absolutely no training or experience.

After five years struggling to stay afloat, working seven days a week, the business slowly began to recover, and then grow. My speech also chronicled my father’s decision to move to northern Michigan, the gamble he took buying an under-performing Buick dealership in the midst of a crippling recession, and his entrepreneurial skill in growing the Bill Marsh Auto Group into the largest, most innovative automobile retailer north of Grand Rapids.

The conclusion of my presentation lays out four key customer service lessons that, throughout his career, were modeled to my brothers and me. These “non-negotiables” were like fertile seeds that he planted into our company that continue to bear fruit long after he left the business.

1) Never, ever, ever take a customer for granted. His early years as a Ford dealer, when one extra sale could literally spell the difference between survival and bankruptcy, instilled in him a deep appreciation—a scarcity mentality—for every single customer. “The day you think you’re so successful that you can afford to disregard a customer,” he used to tell us, “is the day you need to get out of the business… because you’re going downhill.”

2) Responsiveness. My father insisted that there’s nothing more important in your day than responding to a customer who wants to speak to you. He had an “urgency addiction” in getting back to people—and he expected the same of us.

3) Over-communicate. Keeping people informed—customers, employees, vendors, everyone—especially in times of crisis or uncertainty, was always important to him, helping to instill a sense of trust and loyalty throughout the company.

4) Practice genuine hospitality. The day I started working with him, I quickly learned that, when someone asks directions—to the rest rooms, parts department, anywhere—pointing was not an option. He insisted that we treat the customer as you would treat a guest in your home, contributing to a warm, hospitable atmosphere.

These four habits are part of the legacy of genuine—some would say, old fashioned—customer service my father left when he exited the business. Despite the many technology-driven changes in our industry, they’re just as important today as they were back in 1958.

Question: Where did you learn the core lessons that have shaped your success?


My father, Bill Marsh, Sr. describes how he managed to save my grandparents dealership after dropping out of law school in the late 1950’s.

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