9 Words for Customer Service You Deserve

The nuns and my momma taught me that being nice to people is just common courtesy. And rarely, as a customer, have I had to get assertive when service providers aren’t helpful or polite.

Laura Benjamin on Customer CommunicationBut one day my patience was tested. I was standing in a long line at the local sub sandwich shop. It was lunchtime and I had a horde of hungry friends and family helping me move to a new home. The least I could do was feed them.

The sandwich shop was jammed. Since I had committed to sub sandwiches, I stayed. Slowly, the line inched forward and then, thankfully, it was time for the person in front of me to order.

“I’ll have six foot long sandwiches,” she said. Then she gave the server the specifics about what should go into the sandwiches. She wanted each one made differently.

I could see the lady behind the counter get irritated. She made a pouty face and had an attitude of “how dare you make me do all this work”.

Then it was my turn and, you guessed it, I also needed to order six foot long sandwiches. But I didn’t want that lady to turn her wrath on me, so I said, “Let’s keep this simple. Let’s make three of them turkey and the other three tuna.”

No luck. I wasn’t going to get by that easy. She rolled her eyes at me, slapped the bread down on the counter, decimated that bread with a knife and glared at me with a look like you’d get from a grounded teenager.

It was embarrassing. A long line of people were stretched out behind me. It’s bad enough when you have to keep others waiting, but worse when your server is acting all put out.

I could only take it for so long. After all, I was the customer. They were lucky to have me!

So I looked her square in the eyes and uttered just nine words in a calm but firm voice:

“Do you want me to take my business elsewhere?”

It was like somebody flipped a switch. All of a sudden her expression changed and she actually looked humble. “No ma’am” she said. And the rest of our time together went smoothly, with polite and respectful service.

We don’t want much, really. Good value, courtesy and accuracy are just a few of the things researchers have found customers need to keep coming back.

But wait, there’s more!

We have responsibilities too if we’re going to get the service we deserve:

  • Avoid being a PITA (pain in the you-know-what). While poor behavior on our part shouldn’t justify poor service or rudeness in return, it does make it much less likely we’ll get our problems solved.
  • Keep cool. Losing your temper won’t help the situation one little bit and will probably make things a whole lot worse. Don’t let them ruin your day.
  • Take your business elsewhere. There’s no reason why you should have to put up with disrespect, frequent errors, dirty environments, etc. Surely there must be a competitor nearby so you can switch.
  • Thank people for good service when you see it. Send a letter to the home office or to the person’s manager. Reward the positives.
  • Offer constructive feedback. Be specific when you ask for better service by stating behaviors that would make for a good reputation. Don’t just say, “Your service stinks!”

In summary, as a former call center phone rep and customer service manager, I know that dealing with the public can often be a very challenging job. But there are things folks on both sides can do to create better relationships and generate repeat business.

What do you think? Does one side bear more responsibility for good service than another? If so, why? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.


  1. BOY! OH BOY! How I’d LOVE to share this with one of my demanding family members. At least the responsibilities section. Maybe I should send him your direction for some training. (teasing)
    Great advice Laura!

    • Hi Mia! Thanks for writing in. Yep, I think we can all take more responsibility for the type of service we accept. Too often, I have swallowed my frustrations and felt it just wasn’t worth it to speak up. That situation changed my perspective. Good luck with the family member! Next time I do a customer service training for an organization, I’ll let you know – maybe we can sneak him in!

  2. Laura, this is a wonderful story. Customer service is a two-way street. As you mentioned, the customer and the service rep both have “duties” in the transaction. Customers don’t need to be nasty or negative. Service reps don’t need to be nasty or negative either. I’ve found that if I treat people with dignity and respect, they will do the same. That’s a point a present in my first book “Your Customer System.” As you said, I think it is important to celebrate great customer service! And probably the two best ways to do that is with a heart-felt thank you or if the situation calls for it, a generous tip. If we all treat others with respect and dignity, the business world would be a better, more enjoyable place.

    • Hey Dan! I like your philosophy about treating people with dignity and respect. That would certainly go a long way towards reducing conflict and stress for sure! Glad you mentioned your book, “Your Customer System”. I bet you have a lot of great stories you could share! Thanks for commenting!

  3. personhoodCO says:

    Very good advise, I will use it with rude people. But I have one question, are you the lady who called me at dinner time trying to sell me a burial insurance policy that I was rude to? If so, I appologize, but no I still don’t need one.