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happy-unhappyDo you remember Thumper in Walt Disney’s film Bambi?  While watching the newborn fawn attempt to walk for the first time on trembling legs, Thumper remarks that Bambi really doesn’t walk very well. Thumper’s mom then chastises him by asking him to repeat what his father had taught him. Thumper hesitantly replies, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

The questionable grammar aside, what does this have to do with luxury service?

In any type of service situation, you may be called upon to convey a message to a customer that could cause disappointment: “I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.” But this is not a post about basic customer service niceties such as telling customers what you can do for them, rather than what you cannot; demonstrating empathy by saying you understand their frustration; or remembering to use their name in the conversation. This is a post about how you can say things better. And luxury customers always expect better.

The idea of saying something better can apply to any situation. For example, when I worked at Tiffany & Co. we never used the word ‘discount’. It simply did not align with our brand language. Instead, we would occasionally offer a customer an ‘accommodation’. I recently read an article about Apple store employees who are taught to avoid certain words, such as ‘unfortunately’. Instead they use the phrase “as it turns out,” which has a more optimistic tone. Both of these examples show how a simple word or phrase can be improved.

Recently, my husband and I dined at an upscale restaurant known for unusual gastronomic creations. Our server set the stage for the evening by letting us know that the restaurant served “delicate portions.” Was it a warning that we were about to pay too much for too small portions? Perhaps. Still, it was an elegant way of letting us know what to expect.

Keep in mind that whatever you do say should align with your brand message. Following a recent online purchase on an upscale retailer’s website, I received the notice “We’re on it.” It was nice to be reassured my order was receiving attention, but the phrase was totally inconsistent with the brand’s classy image. (See “When Matchy Matchy Works: Keeping Your Brand Message Consistent Across Channels”).

In the current age of fake news and alternative facts, I’m not suggesting we be dishonest or put on airs. It’s possible to be sincere while still dressing up your delivery. My mom was one of eight children raised by a single mother. She didn’t grow up with a lot. Yet she always used a favorite phrase whenever she’d had enough to eat. Rather than saying she was “full,” she would decline second helpings by exclaiming, “Thank you, I’ve had an elegant sufficiency.” I never researched this phrase until just now. I laughed when I discovered it’s been attributed to numerous aunts, uncles, and grandmothers. Perhaps it’s a bit over the top, but I always loved her for saying it.

Do you have a favorite phrase you use when talking with customers? Please share it below. If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything. But if you do have something to say, think about how you can say it better.