The human element is an important component of providing your guests with the best possible experience.

Service interactions can be tough enough to navigate because every guest need and situation is different … and if a team member says the wrong thing, it can be like hitting the nuclear button.

Even the most seasoned team members have trouble saying the right phrases at the right time. But, without a doubt, there are some guest service phrases team members should avoid at all costs.

Read on for our top ten phrases that team members should never use.

10. I can’t wait to clock out. (aka: I’m so done with this place today.)

Sometimes, team members will even overtly declare that they don’t like the company, their boss or the work. But even phrasing it like you can’t wait to rush out the door suggests to your guest that you don’t want to be there – or worse, that the company mistreats you.

Either way, you risk making your guest question whether they want to be in your facility and whether they’ll return. You should always try to personally engage with guests, but it’s best to keep the focus on their experience and the reason for their visit, not on yourself.

9. I don’t know.

I don’t know and its derivatives can cause a good guest interaction to go wrong in many different ways. Here’s what your guest may be hearing when you reply with I don’t know:

  • I don’t care to find out for you.
  • That’s not my job, stop bothering me.
  • I don’t know because I don’t eat or play here and you shouldn’t either.
  • I wish you’d ask someone else.
  • I haven’t been trained well enough to do my job.
  • I have no idea what I’m doing. You (guest) should really ask for a manager.

I don’t know is the old “I just work here” excuse, and there’s simply no place for it in guest service. It’s our job to know, and when we don’t, it’s our job to find out.

Instead, explain, “that’s a great question, let me find out for you quickly,” and then ask another team member or radio a manager so that you keep the burden of the request without pushing it back on a guest.

If it’s a question regarding a menu item you haven’t tried: “While I haven’t tried that item, people love it paired with our sweet potato fries.”

8. I can’t [allow that, give that, etc.]

Negative language has virtually no place in guest service. Even though you have clear guest policies and safety procedures, try phrasing interactions positively from a guest’s perspective and in a way that benefits the guest.

Instead of “You can’t bring in outside food,” try: “While we don’t allow outside food, we have some great options in our café and can store your [item] to take home later.”

Instead of “You can’t run in laser tag,” try: “Let’s all walk so we can stay safe.”

Rule of thumb: when responding to guest requests, always try to respond with what you can do vs. what you can’t.

7. Our policy states…

Like avoiding negative language, policy statements are also best delivered from a guest’s perspective.

For example, don’t tell guests that the policy states only one coupon can be used per group. Instead, explain how the coupon will be applied, and then offer them any current specials that they might be interested in.

Bottom line: guests don’t care what the policy is if they disagree with it. They care about what our facilities offer that they can enjoy.

6. I’m sorry if…

Take care when forming conditional statements using the word if as in “I’m sorry if you’re upset.”

This kind of phrasing can be interpreted as passive aggressive. Chances are, the guest has just told you that they’re upset, so you risk coming off as insensitive and a poor listener.

Show empathy towards your guest by exhibiting concerned body language, actively listening to their concerns and validating their perspective before offering solutions. Apologies are great when they’re sincere and you’ve put yourself in their shoes and offered real solutions.

5. As I said previously…

Starting any sentence with “as I said previously” will often put a guest on the defensive.

When phrased this way, you’re suggesting that the guest didn’t listen to something you’ve already stated, and that you’re irritated that you have to reiterate it. In a word – unhelpful.

Instead, calmly restate what you need to without the added sniping of letting them not-so-subtly know that you don’t like having to repeat yourself.

4. It’s the [other department’s] fault.

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni discusses trust as the foundation of any healthy team. Teams who foster trust do not play the blame game.

If the kitchen, party team or any other department are causing problems with guests, it’s best when team members can have an open and honest dialogue with each other to identify and discuss a breakdown in service to improve for the future.

In the moment with a guest, remember that you are the representative of the company, so it’s always best to take responsibility for an issue on behalf of the company.

Guests don’t want to hear (nor do they really believe it, anyway) that another department got it wrong –  they just want the issue resolved satisfactorily.

Instead of “the kitchen messed up your order,” try: “I’m sorry that we’ve gotten it wrong. Let me fix that for you,” or “I’m sorry your order came out wrong, I’ll get that fixed right away.” You’re not applying any unhelpful blame – rather, you’re taking ownership and the steps to correct the issue.

3. You’re confusing me (and other accusations that start with you).

Be careful not to put blame back on the guest by misusing the word you. Take ownership of any unclarity or miscommunications, so that you can get to the heart of the conversation without any unnecessary fuss.

While a guest may be unclear or confused, it’s better to askfor more information, so that you present yourself on the same side as your guest.

Instead of “You’re confusing me,” try: “I’m sorry, I’m not understanding” or “Let me see if I’m understanding you, you’re asking to…”.

Instead of “You misheard” or “You read that special offer wrong,” try: “Sorry for the confusion, let me try again” or “Sorry for the confusion, while that’s our weekday offer, what I can do today is…”

Again, always try to end with something positive that tells your guest what you can do to make their day.

2. What?!

As a consumer, nothing infuriates me more than to ask a lengthy question or take the time to explain a problem with my experience just to have the team member blink several times before exclaiming, “what?!”

Guests are not your friends and should be treated professionally. If you can, use the context of the conversation and try to rephrase what you think you heard.

For example: “Do you mean you’d like the brie and bacon jam burger without the meat patty?”

If you couldn’t hear them, lean closer and ask: “I’m so sorry, could you repeat that, I am having trouble hearing you.”

Do your best, and ask specifically for what you need: clarification, the guest to repeat themselves or for them to speak louder – but present the need in a way that shows you’ve been listening and are ready and willing to meet their needs once you understand fully.

1. Silence and a blank stare.

The number one phrase you should never use is actually not a phrase at all, but complete silence – especially when you should be saying something, such as when a guest approaches.

Your phone should never be visible when a guest is approaching, even if your company does permit them on the floor for other purposes during a shift.

You should always be ready with a smile, great eye contact and a warm greeting. Remember that our guests are the reason we have this job, and they’re here to have fun!

We have everything we need to help them have the best day ever – which is a task that not many workers get to have, if you think about it.

What do you as a consumer wish guest service team members everywhere would erase from their vocabulary? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter.



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