There are no do-overs during face to face interactions with guests; team members must be equipped to get it right from the start.

Guest service interactions have been on our mind a lot lately. Your team has a lot to worry about just making sure they are keeping on top of all the changing processes. They shouldn’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing to a guest and damaging your facility’s guest experience OR reputation.

That’s why we decided to update the top phrases team members should never use to help remind staff that there are some words better left unsaid.

No. 1: “My coworker/parent/roommate has/had COVID-19.”

You’re no doubt in daily communication with team members to determine their suitability to work that day, and it’s likely that you’re transparent about those processes with your guests. Team members should know the measures you are taking, and that all communication regarding exposure to the virus should come from your business. Even the most innocent of comments can impact your brand negatively or even cause panic.

No. 2: “I think that these masks/guidelines are….”

Every team member must be on the same page when it comes to your facility’s response to the pandemic – and that’s the one you set and communicate. Make sure that team members know where you stand on these issues and why you’ve implemented the guidelines you have. Then, encourage them to engage with guest in ways that do not open your facility up to potentially negative publicity. You can’t afford for team members to share statements that go against your company’s policies or values. Arm staff with other meaningful ways to engage with guests during this time, such as sharing how happy they are that guests have come out, or how much they have missed the community over these past months. Bottom line, every time they speak to a guest, they’re representing your business. Be sure to make it count.

No. 3: “Yeah people are always getting hurt on that.”

According to amusement industry expert, Rand Wright of SafePark, USA, “What can damage your facility’s reputation and increase your liability is for a team member to suggest that you know there’s a safety issue in your facility that you haven’t addressed.  If there is an area or attraction in your facility that is causing injury, take reasonable steps to immediately remedy the issue, document the measures taken and communicate with your staff that it has been appropriately addressed.  If it will take time to address the issue, take the necessary precautions to restrict access to that area (if it is an attraction, take it out of use) and communicate with your staff what is being done.”

No. 4: 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.

No. 5: 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.

No. 6: 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.

No. 7: 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.

No. 8: 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.

No. 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.”

No. 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.

Bonus No. 11: Silence and a blank stare.

Ok so there are 11, not 10. The last 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 (even in your mask, trust me, guests can tell), 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.

Have other phrases team members should avoid? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter.



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